Mike Terry, Deseret News archives
Recent research on energy drinks finds harmful effects for adolescents, from heart and digestive problems to insomnia, anxiety, dehydration and more.

Recent research on energy drinks finds harmful effects for adolescents, from heart and digestive problems to insomnia, anxiety, dehydration and more. If teens mix them with alcohol, it's even more dangerous, a report in Pediatrics in Review says.

The most popular energy drinks contain "high, unregulated amounts of caffeine, as well as other stimulants that can enhance the effect of caffeine," according to a statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The report, called "Energy Drinks: What Teenagers (and Their Doctors) Should Know," said that "hundreds of different energy drinks are available and are marketed to adolescents, carrying the potential for substance abuse that involved caffeine and alcohol. Clinicians must be educated to deal with their patients' use of these products."

"The variety of products on the market is dizzying, and there are new ones arriving all the time. Some contain alcohol and caffeine. Others, just caffeine, but in amounts all over the map," wrote Elizabeth Simpson of the Virginian-Pilot. "Energy drinks also have additives such as guarana, ginseng and taurine, which are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so their effects are not completely understood."

For the review, the authors looked at 23 previous studies on energy drinks and use by youths, including some that were the basis for warnings from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 about risks associated with the drinks. Researchers for one such study, published in Pediatrics, concluded that there's never a good reason for children and adolescents to consume energy drinks. "In general, caffeine-containing beverages, including soda, should be avoided," the researchers wrote.

Several researchers who have been looking at energy drinks noted that teens often don't know a difference between energy drinks and sports drinks. Sports drinks are designed to rehydrate someone after exercise. Energy drinks are completely different.

Nationally, efforts to limit access to at least "high-octane" energy drinks may be getting some traction. A story in USA Today said that Chicago is among local governments considering banning sale of energy drinks that contain high amounts (in its case, 180 milligrams) of caffeine and other substances. The article pointed out that would "end sales of many 24-ounce energy drinks."

The number of teens who consume energy drinks regularly was 16 percent in 2003, but had more than doubled to 35 percent in 2008, the report said. Half of college students reportedly drink at least one a month.

Time's Healthland provides a breakdown of the ingredients the researchers say might be problematic, including caffeine, guarana, sugars, taurine, ginseng and B vitamins.

The story said that some members of Congress want tighter regulation of the drinks. There are many better ways to boost energy, including getting more sleep, eating healthy foods, and getting adequate exercise, according to Dr. Kwabena Blankson, who specializes in treating adolescents at Naval Medical Center and is the new report's lead author. She told Doctortipster.com that "parents and doctors alike should be constantly supervising the behavior of teenagers and inform them about the dangers of energy drinks whilst suggesting healthier alternatives."

The Aiken Standard reported that in 2011, about 20,000 people in the United States were admitted to emergency rooms because of energy drink consumption. That article said that 18 people reportedly died last fall, "with energy drinks being looked at for the blame," according to the Associated Press. Questions about energy drinks and kids have been ongoing for some time, although not everyone's convinced.

The American Beverage Association has challenged this new report, saying in a statement: “This paper contains misinformation about energy drinks and does nothing to address the very serious problem of underage drinking and excessive alcohol consumption among young adults. Moreover, ABA member companies manufacture non-alcoholic beverages — including energy drinks.

"Contrary to the misperception perpetuated by this paper, most mainstream energy drinks contain only about half the amount of caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee. Energy drinks, their ingredients and labeling also are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Importantly, the American Beverage Association has adopted, and encourages all energy drink companies to adopt, a Guidance for the Responsible Labeling and Marketing of Energy Drinks. Under this guidance, companies voluntarily display caffeine amounts from all sources on their packages along with an advisory statement that the product is not intended or recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women and persons sensitive to caffeine," it said.

"Let’s stick with the facts, rather than perpetuating sensational untruths which attempt to blur the line between energy drinks and alcoholic beverages,” the ABA added.

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