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Can You Trust Energy Drinks?

Submitted by Wayne Parsons on January 20, 2015 – 4:46 pm

iStock_000015957496_LargeEnergy drinks or “energy shots”—marketed as diet supplements or food products—are relatively new to the marketplace and due to adverse event reports and high use, they have attracted the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration and public health officials.

As stated in a Brown University student services announcement, “[e]nergy drinks are beverages like Red Bull, Rock Star and Monster, which contain large doses of caffeine and other legal stimulants like guarana and ginseng. The amount of caff[e]ine in an energy drink can range from 75 milligrams to over 200 milligrams per serving. This compares to 34 milligrams in Coke and 55 milligrams in Mountain Dew.”

Can a consumer trust that these products are safe? The regulation of energy drinks is minimal and manufacturers have few requirements to test the products or the ingredients. Consumers may be lulled into thinking that everything on store shelves has been tested and is safe. Energy drinks have minimal scrutiny by the FDA. Congress and state legislatures have stripped funding for all regulatory agencies. So consumers must rely on the private companies that make products to make them safe. Diet supplements, closely associated with the energy drink industry have been linked to strokes, liver damage and kidney problems. The FDA has alerted the public to the risks but have little regulatory control.

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the FFDCA)requires the manufacturers, distributors and retailers of these products notify the FDA within 15 days of receiving a report of an adverse event. However, there is no enforcement and, therefore, no penalty for not reporting. The FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) Adverse Event Reporting System (CAERS) collects reports about adverse health events and product complaints. Their website contains many reports of adverse events from popular energy drink products. These resources should be checked at the FDA website (www.fda.gov) before using energy drinks.

The contents of the energy drinks can increase heart rate and blood pressure, cause dehydration and interfere with sleep. Energy drinks should not be used in conjunction with exercise because fluid loss from sweating and the diuretic effects from caffeine can cause serious dehydration. Cardiovascular problems may result.

Warning signs include heart palpitations, dizziness and shortness of breath, as can be seen in the adverse effects reports at CFSAN and CAERS. When an energy drink advertises “no crash” it means no “sugar crash” and simply means that the drink uses guarana or some other non-sugar stimulant. The risks remain.

Energy drinks and alcohol are commonly used together, putting a depressant and a stimulant into the body same time. Imagine drinking several cups of coffee and whiskey at the same time. Energy drinks mask the effects of alcohol consumption but do not have any effect on bloodalcohol content (BAC). By keeping energy level high person does not feel the effects of the alcohol. Fatigue is the way the body alerts a person that they have had too much to drink. On top of that the combined dehydrating effects of both the energy drink and the alcohol make the body less able to efficiently metabolize the alcohol thus increasing the inebriating effects of drinking.

A recent report by Shareen Lehman in Reuters Health, entitled “More research, regulation needed on energy drinks,” suggests a looming health problem for youth. Her report citing studies in Europe, notes that ingredients like guarana and taurine have unknown effects and “are so poorly studied it’s hard to say whether they’re safe in large quantities and in children and teens.”

The facts from studies show: 1) 500 new brands of energy drinks were released worldwide in 2006; 2) U.S. sales of energy drinks increase about 10% per year between 2008 and 2012; 3) 65% of kids aged 10 to 18 years old, 18% of kids under age 10 and 30% of adults in the European Union were consuming energy drinks; 4) In Europe, 43% of the caffeine consumed by kids and 18% of the caffeine consumed by teens is from energy drinks; 5) 70% of young adult consumption of energy drinks is combined with alcohol. A representative of the American Beverage Association was quoted in Lehman’s article as stating “that most mainstream energy drinks contain about half the caffeine of a similar sized cup of coffee” and that “…leading energy drink makers also voluntarily display total caffeine amounts from all sources on their packages.”

These comments support the fact that energy drinks are risky and care should be taken if using them. Importantly the industry spokesperson also said that “energy drink makers also display an advisory statement on their packages indicating that the product is not intended (or recommended) for children, pregnant or nursing women, or persons sensitive to caffeine.”

Using artificial products to stimulate or depress the body and mind comes with risks of adverse consequences. The fact that something is legal and available does not mean that it is safe.