Skip The Speed: 5 Reasons Teens Should Avoid Energy Drinks
6 mins read

Skip The Speed: 5 Reasons Teens Should Avoid Energy Drinks

This is the second piece in a three-part series from Bright Beacon on energy drinks. Don’t miss the first part – Energy Drinks: Do You Know What Your Kids Are Drinking?

We all teach our kids to say no to drugs, but how many parents think to warn their children about the dangers of Red Bull? Here are five reasons why kids should stay away from energy drinks:

5. CAFFEINE – Heavy caffeine use has been linked to negative health effects. Energy drinks have more caffeine than coffee, and they aren’t regulated by the FDA. 

Most energy drinks contain the same basic ingredients: guarana, taurine, ginseng, sugars, and B vitamins (i.e. riboflavin, pyridoxine). Caffeine is rarely listed as an official ingredient, though all of the top-selling energy drinks contain caffeine. Almost none of them state the exact quantities of caffeine or other ingredients, shielding this information under the tag “proprietary blend”. Why? They are not required to. The FDA regulates the amount of caffeine in cola beverages but energy drinks and cold coffee beverages do not fall under the same jurisdiction. One of the reasons is that caffeine is a substance generally recognized as safe by the FDA, even though the FDA does regulate the sale of caffeine containing drugs like No-Doz ™ (100-200 mg caffeine).

A 6.5oz cup of coffee, depending on how it is brewed, contains 80-120 mg of caffeine. A cup of tea contains around 50 mg. And a 12 oz cola beverage by law cannot contain more than 65 mg of caffeine. Even the carbonated fountain sodas sold at fast-food establishments and gas stations contain less than 49 mg of caffeine per 16 oz serving.

Here’s the amount of caffeine in some top-selling energy drinks:

The caffeine in one can of these leading energy drink brands is sometimes the equivalent of 2-3 cups of coffee. Astonishingly, some energy drinks contain upwards of 500 mg in a single can.

Caffeine use and withdrawal has been linked to a variety of health effects, including irritability, anxiety, mental confusion, hand and limb tremors, osteoporosis, digestive problems, nausea, insomnia and sleepiness, urinary frequency, headache, palpitations, arrhythmias, and elevated blood pressure.

There is not a daily RDA for caffeine, but it is generally accepted that women of reproductive age and children should consume no more than 300 mg of caffeine a day (2-3 cups of coffee). Associations have been shown between caffeine consumption and premature birth, miscarriage, fetal growth retardation, and decreased birth weight. Withdrawal symptoms have been reported in children who drink as little as 120-145 mg per day (1-2 cups of coffee or 3-5 sodas).

Cardiovascular effects as a result of heavy caffeine use can be a significant source of morbidity in athletes. Hypertension and palpitations in the adolescent athlete often lead to extensive medical workups. The diuretic effect of high levels of caffeine could lead to dehydration in athletes who fail to drink enough to compensate. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed caffeine from its list of banned substances in 2004. The agency deemed caffeine insignificant as a performance enhancer in terms of 1) providing a competitive advantage, 2) not being injurious to health, and 3) being too difficult to determine if caffeine in the human body came from the incidental use of coffee and soft drinks or from supplements.

Caffeine is well-recognized as an ergogenic aid, a performance-enhancer; even though WADA has not officially banned it for Olympic athletes, caffeine remains on its closely-monitored drug list. And for the high-performance adolescent athlete, caffeine is an NCAA banned substance if quantities in the urine are found that approximate five to eight cups of coffee consumed in an hour. Depending on the brand, that’s as few as one to three energy drinks.

4. GUARANA – Just like caffeine, but stronger.

Guarana, also known as Brazilian cocoa, is a South American plant that is commonly added to energy drinks. It contains a substance that is chemically similar to caffeine, with 1 g of guarana being equivalent to as much as 40 mg of caffeine. Of note, when an energy drink lists its caffeine content, it is NOT usually taking into account the guarana, which has been reported to exert a more prolonged effect than an equivalent amount of caffeine. Guarana has not been evaluated by the FDA for safety, effectiveness, or purity. All potential risks and/or advantages of guarana may not be known.

3. SUGARS – Energy drinks are loaded up with sugar. Nearly twice the max reccommended daily intake per can.

Most energy drinks contain sugars in the form of sucrose, glucose, and/or high fructose corn syrup, with the sugar content varying from 21-34 grams per 8-ounce can. Some studies have shown that glucose combined with caffeine can synergistically enhance athletic and cognitive performance (Scholey 2004 and Rao 2006). One study showed that Red Bull improved performance in a range of mental and physical measures (Alford, et al). The amount of glucose in energy drinks is similar to that found in sodas and fruit drinks. Users who consume two to three energy drinks could be taking in 120-180 mg of sugar, which is four to six times the maximum recommended daily intake according to USDA dietary guidelines.

2. OTHER ADDITIVES – Mystery ingredients.

There are a host of other additives (e.g. B vitamins, glucuronolactone, Yohimbe, carnitine, bitter orange) that purport to have a bevy of positive effects on consumers. Most of these ingredients lack sufficient scientific evidence to back their claims such as reducing cancer risk, improving sexual performance, and preventing diabetes, to name a few. The quantities of these ingredients are often sub- or supra-therapeutic, with doses so low or so high that no one knows what effect they have on the human body. Even taking into account some of the known physiologic benefits, little is known about the effects of daily consumption of energy drinks on long-term health.

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What’s the number one reason that your kids should stay away from energy drinks? Find out in the final part of our series on energy drinks – Energy Drinks: The Danger Of Creating “Wide-Awake Drunks”


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