Energy drinks are widely promoted as products that increase alertness and enhance physical and mental performance. Marketing targeted at young people has been quite effective. Energy drinks promotions are prevalent at sporting events and concerts -- you can even “fan” them on Facebook.
Energy drinks are the most popular dietary supplement consumed by American teens and young adults. Males between the ages of 18 and 34 years consume the most energy drinks, and almost one-third of teens between 12 and 17 years drink them regularly.
What these brands don’t tell you, and what science is now showing us, is that these drinks can often be unhealthy. Caffeine is the major ingredient in most energy drinks — a 24-oz energy drink may contain as much as 500 mg of caffeine (similar to that in four or five cups of coffee). Energy drinks also may contain guarana, another source of caffeine sometimes called Brazilian cocoa.
Consuming energy drinks creates important safety concerns. The overall number of energy drink-related visits to emergency departments has increased in recent years. A growing trend among young adults and teens is mixing energy drinks with alcohol. About 25 percent of college students consume alcohol with energy drinks, and those who do binge-drink significantly more often than students who don’t mix them.
There’s very limited data that energy drinks containing caffeine improve alertness and physical endurance or enhance strength and power. More importantly, they can be dangerous because large amounts of caffeine can cause serious heart rhythm, blood flow and blood pressure problems. What’s more, the amount of caffeine in energy drinks varies widely, and the actual caffeine content may not be identified easily.
- Large amounts of caffeine may cause serious heart and blood vessel problems such as heart rhythm disturbances and increases in heart rate and blood pressure. Caffeine also may harm children’s still-developing cardiovascular and nervous systems.
- Caffeine use may be associated with palpitations, anxiety, sleep problems, digestive problems, elevated blood pressure and dehydration.
- Guarana, commonly added to energy drinks, contains caffeine. Therefore, the addition of guarana increases the drink’s total caffeine content.
- Young adults who combine caffeinated drinks with alcohol may not be able to tell how intoxicated they are.
- Excessive energy drink consumption may disrupt teens’ sleep patterns and may fuel risk-taking behavior.
- Many energy drinks contain as much as 25–50 g of simple sugars; this may be problematic for people who are diabetic or prediabetic.