Experts warn against dangers of energy drinks

February 15, 2011 in Nutrition Topics in the News

Experts warn against dangers of energy drinks
A new report this week raised concerns about the health risks associated with energy drinks.

In the report, published in the journal Pediatrics, Florida pediatricians describe cases of seizures, delusions, heart problems and kidney or liver damage in people who had downed one or more non-alcoholic energy drinks.  They warn that some ingredients in energy drinks might be putting some consumers at risk.

Some brands of energy drinks claim increased concentration and reaction speed, and improve vigilance and emotional status.  But according to the Florida researchers who reviewed the medical literature on the topic, the industry's claims of benefit are questionable, with no evidence to support any therapeutic effects.

While there aren't any long term or extensive studies on the health risks associated with energy drinks, researchers say they found plenty of anecdotes that raised some red flags in regards to safety.

Researchers report that in Ireland, the country's poison center reported 17 cases of possible side effects of energy drinks between 1999 and 2005, including seizures, heart rhythm disturbances and two deaths.  And in New Zealand, 20 similar cases were reported between 2005 and 2009.

Researchers agree that isolated anecdotes don't prove that energy drinks are to blame. But their report calls for regulatory action and more research on the safety of energy drinks - especially among children.

Energy drinks are high in caffeine, which is known to cause fast heart rate, insomnia, and anxiety, especially in sensitive individuals.  There are other ingredients in energy drinks with effects of their own - many of which are understudied and not regulated. 

Common ingredients added to energy drinks include the amino acid taurine, the herbal extracts yohimbine, guarana and ginseng, and often loads of sugar.  High doses of yohimbine have been linked to increased blood pressure and heart rate. And like ginseng, yohimbine may interact with other drugs.

Last year an editorial published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Canada's leading medical journal, warned against the serious health risks of energy drinks to children and adolescents and called for the federal government to implement stronger warning labels.

Currently, Health Canada warns against mixing energy drinks with alcohol - which can have serious health effects, and advises that they be consumed in moderation.

For more information on the safety of energy drinks from Health Canada, click here.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.