The number of annual hospital visits involving the drinks doubled from 2007 to 2011, the latest year for which data are available, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In 2011, there were 20,783 reported emergency room visits in which an energy drink was cited as the primary cause of or a contributing factor to a health problem, compared with 10,068 in 2007. Such problems, which are typically linked to excessive caffeine consumption, can include anxiety, headaches, irregular heartbeats and heart attacks.
Energy drinks have been labeled a dietary supplement within the marketplace and are considered to be the highest in increasing consumer penetration. Although they are a small component of the non-alcoholic beverage industry, they are considered the most dynamic with 60% market growth. It is estimated that the US sales of energy drinks have brought them a market worth of $12.5 billion. The energy drink industry is being forced to change their marketing strategies and methods due to the targeting of a younger audience that are at risk for over consumption.
It is also estimated that 10% of high school students drink energy drinks. Why are so many young individuals turning to energy drinks? According to the 2011 sleep poll, by the time U.S. students reach their senior year in high school, they are sleeping an average of 6.9 hours a night, down from an average of 8.4 hours in the sixth grade.
Energy drinks can contain as little as 80 mg of caffeine (e.g., Red Bull) or as much as 500 mg of caffeine (2 oz serving of ALRI Energy shot). Certain brands of coffee are manufacturing products with very high levels of caffeine (e.g., Biohazard coffee contains 928 mg of caffeine in a 12 oz serving). Furthermore, the majority of energy drinks are not only caffeine based but also include a variety of B-vitamins with taurine and other amino acids and stimulants. Taurine is an amino acid that is naturally produced by the human body however, the version found in energy drinks is manufactured. Taurine helps regulate heartbeat, muscle contractions, and energy levels. Usually the body makes enough taurine so there is no need to supplement. A B-Vitamin deficiency is quite rare (mostly seen in vegans) or who drink heavy amounts of alcohol.
Figure 3. Top 5 Ingredients in Energy Drinks.
What are the Risks? The standard energy drink with 100-200 mg of caffeine is not our concern. The concern lies with products that contain high levels of caffeine with multiple stimulants. Many products are combining caffeine with stimulants such as Guarana Seed, Yohimbine, and Yerba Mate.
Combining high levels of caffeine with other stimulants may cause an electrical disturbance causing a life threating arrhythmia (i.e. heart palpitations). As we’ve seen in several cases in teens and adults, it could potentially lead to cardiac arrest and eventually death.
While energy drink ingredients such as caffeine have been widely studied, others haven’t. And, manufacturers are using mainly anecdotal evidence as justification of their use in their beverages or other products. Consumers should be aware of the ingredients contained in energy drinks and make educated decisions whether or not these beverages are the best choice for their bodies and those of their children.
Tavis Piattoly, MS, RD, LDN, Taylor Hooton Foundation, Education Program Manager & Sports Dietitian. For more information on the Taylor Hooton Foundation, go to http://taylorhooton.org/