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CAYA's corner By Karen Dickey

Energy drink dangers for young people

August 22, 2012 - With a targeted demographic group comprised of teenagers and young adults, the energy drink market has grown into a multibillion dollar business, reported as being the fastest growing segment of the U.S. beverage market. Energy drinks first appeared in the U.S. in 1997, with the introduction of Red Bull.

Given their growing popularity in children and teenagers, parents are wise to question the safety of these beverages. Young people are particularly attracted to them because of effective product marketing (including promises of increased energy, improved weight loss, and better athletic performance), peer influence, and a lack of knowledge of the potential harmful side effects.

Clarkston Area Youth Assistance caseworker Elissa Fogel reports that she has heard from parents and teens who have experienced health issues they suspect are related to their consumption of energy drinks.

Energy drinks refers to beverages that contain caffeine, in combination with other presumed energy enhancing ingredients, such as taurine (a sulfur containing amino acid), herbal extracts, and vitamins. Historically, these drinks have been classified and marketed as dietary supplements, which are subject to the most minimal regulation.

There is dangerously little research on the effects of the ingredients added to them to achieve that status. An abundance of research, however, shows how too much caffeine can affect blood pressure, heart rate, increase anxiety and disrupt sleep. In the U.S., the FDA has placed no restrictions on an upper caffeine limit in these types of beverages and a disclosure of the exact caffeine content on the labels is not required.

Research has shown that caffeine containing energy drinks can affect a child's developing brain and heart and there is a risk of addiction.

They may be particularly harmful to youth with diabetes, seizures, cardiac abnormalities, or mood and behavior disorders.

A study carried out by researchers from the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and Fitness said "the total amount of caffeine in some cans or bottles of energy drinks can exceed 500 mg., which is equivalent to 14 cans of common caffeinated soft drinks."

For the average adult, less than 400 mg. of caffeine per day is recommended. Energy drink overdoses in children as young as five in both the U.S. and abroad have been reported and in some cases have resulted in seizures, stroke and even sudden death.

John P. Higgins, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston says energy drinks may be especially harmful during sports.

"The jolt of caffeine may interfere with something called coronary flow reserve, which is the ability of the arteries around the heart to dilate during intense exercise, a problem that may contribute to heart attacks and abnormal heart rhythms in athletes. The caffeine makes these arteries more likely to spasm and actually shut."

The common practice of combining energy drinks with alcohol is particularly risky as well. The caffeine and caffeine-like ingredients in these drinks can mask the perception of inebriation and thus increase the risk of drunken driving or other dangerous behaviors.

Since energy drinks have no therapeutic benefit and may put some at risk for adverse health events, they need to be better studied and more tightly regulated.

In the meantime, parents are urged to educate their children on the potential harm of these products and discourage their consumption.

Contact Clarkston Area Youth Assistance at 248-623-4313 for information on substance abuse and prevention, as well as short-term counseling or referrals to local agencies for long-term intervention.

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