Energy drinks may pose health risks for young users

February 25, 2011

Energy drinks can have serious adverse effects in children, adolescents, and young adults, those who are large consumers of these beverages.

Energy drinks can have serious adverse effects in children, adolescents, and young adults, those who are large consumers of these beverages.

A review of literature and Internet sources published in Pediatrics found that 30% to 50% of adolescents and young adults report using energy drinks, which may contain 3 to 5 times the amount of caffeine found in cola drinks.

These drinks are classified as dietary supplements and are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration. In addition to high amounts of caffeine, they often contain other additives such as guarana, kola nut, yerba mate, and cocoa, which increase their caffeine content. These substances have stimulatory effects and cardiac and hematologic activity, according to the researchers. Other common ingredients are taurine, ginseng, and yohimbine.

Serious adverse effects, including liver damage, kidney failure, respiratory disorders, agitation, cardiac disorders, and death, have been reported in users of energy drinks. Children, adolescents, and young adults with seizures, diabetes, heart abnormalities, mood and behavioral disorders, and those who take certain medications are particularly vulnerable. Of the 5,448 caffeine overdoses reported in the United States in 2007, 46% occurred in individuals younger than 19 years of age.

“Energy drinks have no therapeutic benefit, and many ingredients are understudied and not regulated,” the researchers write. “Both the known and unknown pharmacology of various ingredients, combined with reports of toxicity, suggest that these drinks may put some children at risk for serious adverse health effects.”

The investigators say that pediatric health care providers must be aware of the potential harmful effects of energy drinks and screen for their use to educate families about the risks. They also call for research to define maximum safe doses, the effects of chronic use, and the effects of energy drinks in at-risk populations. Unless the safety of energy drinks in children and adolescents is established, regulation is prudent.

Seifert SM, Schaechter JL, Hershorin ER, Lipshultz SE. Health effects of energy drinks on children, adolescents, and young adults. Pediatrics. 2011;127(3):511-528.