There is no denying that the consumption of energy drinks has soared in recent years. But this has not been without concern. Young people perceive consuming energy drinks as being cool and right on-trend. Given the nature of youngsters, they are likely to go with the movement, without enough information on the drinks.
Current studies on energy drinks reveal that these beverages are not without their effects on the consumers. You have probably come across caffeine toxicity. This condition is more prevalent in younger people as their bodies have a low tolerance for stimulants.
And this toxicity is not the only thing parents need to worry about. Caffeine has a range of other effects on the body, as we will discuss later in this article. These include seizures and vomiting and even death.
Are energy drinks bad for kids? Key ingredients in energy drinks such as caffeine and sugar have many adverse effects on kids. The dangers of energy drink consumption in children include tooth erosion, obesity and elevated blood sugar levels.
In this article, we will cover the ingredients present in these drinks and their likely effects on kids. In the end, you can make an informed decision on whether your children should consume such beverages.
What are energy drinks?
Energy drinks are popular beverages whose main components are sugar and caffeine, among other ingredients. People consume them in the hope of raising their energy levels and improving their concentration and reaction times.
Other uses include raised metabolism, staying awake, improving moods, reducing stress, and increased performance. Manufacturers want you to believe that these drinks can raise your energy by a significant amount.
Adults will generally tolerate the ingredients. The same does not hold for children whose systems are in the developmental stage. Also, there is a gap in studies relating to how these drinks affect kids. The little information available points to adverse effects.
Why are kids drinking energy drinks?
Manufacturers found a way to penetrate the market – targeting young people and adolescents. If you look at the ads on social media and mainstream media, you will notice a trend. Manufacturers pass these drinks off as ‘the in-thing,’ making them look cool.
And with most young people, it is all about perception. If they go with what’s trending, they can keep up with what’s on social media. It comes down to peer influence as well as a lack of knowledge on the effects of these drinks.
Not many kids know that energy drinks come with a fair share of harmful effects on the users.
If you don't already know, energy drinks for kids are legal – that needs to change! And here is why!! Please read today's @DailyMirror article, see how shocking the facts are & join the campaign to ban them for children #redbull #monster #energydrinks pic.twitter.com/jyi97sjNn7
— Rebecca Jane (@LadyDetectives1) January 9, 2018
It does not stop there. Youngsters have a habit of mixing energy drinks with alcohol as they try experimenting with stimulants. These also extend to marijuana and amphetamines. These combinations do not work out so well.
Several studies have been undertaken to figure out just how many young people are taking energy drinks. The results will shock you. One such study took place in the Central Atlantic region of the U.S, where 496 students participated in the survey.
While these were not children, the average age was 21, give or take about three to four years. Of these, more than half had taken an energy drink in the last month before the study. The reasons for the consumption varied from inadequate sleep to reduced energy to party fun, among others.
Now, we move on to a younger age group, thanks to a study conducted in Germany. Of the participants, all were adolescents. Of these, more than half had consumed an energy drinks at some point in their life. A quarter of the subjects admitted to the regular consumption of these beverages. These numbers raise questions as to the exposure of children to these possibly harmful drinks.
Ingredients in energy drinks and their effects on kids
Let us focus on the ingredients in these drinks and the effects on kids, adolescents, and young adults.
While energy drinks vary in many things, they have one thing in common- caffeine. Manufacturers rely on this legal stimulant to get users feeling giddy and energetic after consuming the beverages. It’s like when you come across a person who cannot start their day without coffee. The reason being, they need a boost in their energy levels.
The variant regarding caffeine is how much manufacturers will put in these drinks. Some will have 50 mg in one can, while others can be as high as 500 mg per bottle. Is this a lot? Well, you can compare this to tea, which has about 60 mg per cup.
Coffee can have thousands of mg per cup. So, when you think about it, the energy drinks may not have that much caffeine content. But, here is the thing. Kids should not consume caffeine, whether in energy drinks or coffee. Their systems cannot handle the effects of this stimulant.
What are the safe limits? Kids can take caffeine in limits of 2.5 to 6 mg per kg per day. That means that for most children, tea is the safest source of caffeine. And even then, the dosage is limited to one or two cups a day.
Adolescents can handle as many as 100 mg per day, regardless of their weight. So if such a teen were to consume an energy drink with 500 mg, they would have consumed as much as five times their daily limit.
The thing with guarana is that most manufacturers will not list its caffeine content in the ingredients. They treat it as a sub-component, which it is not. It allows manufacturers to dupe people into thinking that they have taken less caffeine than they have.
Studies show that guarana can account for as many as 40 mg per extracted gram. If this is not on the packaging, that’s how much more you would take. And with kids, this small addition can take them over their daily limit.
Manufacturers want consumers to believe they can get their daily nutritive values from these beverages. But how true is this? The thing is, too much of anything can be poisonous, even vitamins, and studies show as much.
B 12 is a common vitamin in these drinks. It works in RBC formation as well as nucleic acid metabolism. The good news is that toxicity is low with this component, even when ingested in high doses.
Then there is B6, which works in amino acid metabolism, among other vital roles in the body. In this case, toxicity is possible when one consumes more than 500 mg a day. Effects include impairment of senses and sensory ataxia.
Take the case of a 22-year old patient who drunk as many as ten energy drinks each day for two weeks. She had to go to the ER as she was nauseated, vomiting, suffering a fever, and experiencing epigastric pain, among other symptoms. The diagnosis came back as acute hepatitis, owing to high levels of niacin in the body.
She is not alone. Another man, aged fifty, also suffered non-viral hepatitis from a buildup of niacin. He had been drinking as many as 5 energy drinks every day for three weeks.
Note the ages here: 22 and 50. Now, what do you think would happen to someone aged eighteen and below?
And finally, we come to a major culprit in energy drinks- sugar. Ask anyone, and they will tell you that sugar is bad for you, for one reason or the other. And with kids, you have more of a reason to be careful. From tooth erosion to obesity to elevated blood sugar levels, you have many causes for worry.
You may argue that high sugar levels may work to your benefit. Let’s take the example of an athlete. In this case, you would need the elevation.
With kids, sugar has been known to contribute to unhealthy weight gain as well as tooth erosion. Tooth damage owes to the high acidity of these beverages, which de-mineralize their teeth.
Another trend that has come up is the use of artificial sweeteners. Manufacturers argue that these have less adverse impacts on children. But is this true? Studies show that many safety concerns surround these drinks. Some even claim that they could have carcinogenic effects on their users. They have also been shown to contribute to weight gain.
A lot of research is ongoing as to the long-term effects of these sweeteners. An example would be their effect on alcohol abuse. When you mix an energy drink with alcohol, you end up delaying gastric emptying. It owes to sucrose, which plays an essential role in this delay. You can thus end up more intoxicated, while still masking the effects of the alcohol.
Alcohol abuse in kids, mixing it with energy drinks
Kids love experimenting with stimulants, more so in their teen years. They want to know how it feels to be high. The cool kids are doing it, and so will they. And if people start mixing their energy drinks with alcohol, then they, too, start doing it.
The introduction of energy drinks and their ease of access have contributed significantly to the rise in alcohol abuse. And not only do kids use alcohol, but they also abuse other drugs such as marijuana. As kids develop a dependence on energy drinks, they also develop the same for other stimulants, thus creating an array of problems.
A survey took place in Italy involving 916 students. Results revealed that the older the students, the more their consumption of these drinks.
Another study took place involving high school students in Italy aged 15-19. Of these, 41.4% consumed energy drinks, while 23.2% consumed energy drinks mixed with alcohol. Of those mixing, there was a high likelihood of abusing other drugs such as cannabis. They also participated in risky behaviors such as physical fights and unprotected sex, among others.
This increased alcohol-energy drink mixing owes to a trend in the market. Some people also use this mixing as a means to reduce hangovers as well as treat other intoxication symptoms.
Cardiovascular health effects
When kids take energy drinks, the caffeine raises their heart rate as well as their arterial blood pressure. And this happens immediately when they consume the beverages, owing to the ergogenic effects of caffeine.
Take the case of two healthy boys, aged 14 and 16. After the consumption of high energy drink doses, they suffered atrial fibrillation. Another similar case involving 17 and 19-year-old boys took place. The latter suffered a myocardial infarction.
And that’s not all. Recent studies show a strong correlation between energy drinks and reduced endothelial function. These drinks also lead to the rupture of large arteries, arterial dilatation, and other such effects.
Psychological effects of energy drinks on kids
Some psychiatric disorders owe to the introduction of caffeine to the system. These include anxiety, sleep disorders, intoxication, and caffeine-related disorders.
A kid may be doing okay, eating right, and sleeping well. Then all of a sudden, they can barely fall asleep, and they spend hours being restless. Their social and academic life suffers as a result. And the only substance to blame is the caffeine.
If you think that’s a stretch, take the example of adolescents aged 15 to 16. A study undertaken in this group showed that an increase in caffeine intake increased their violent behaviors. The group also suffered other conduct changes, other than this, showing how dangerous caffeine can be.
Other children have suffered ischemic strokes and epileptic seizures, upon consumption of high doses of caffeine. That means that this stimulant also affects the neurological system of its users.
Hallucinations are not rare when kids take more than 300 mg of caffeine in a day. The hallucinations come about when cortisol levels in the body increase. You see, cortisol works in enhancing the physiological effects of stress. So it becomes easier for people to see and hear things that may not exist.
An energy drink can have as many as 30 grams of sugar per ounce. For adults, that may not be a big problem. But with kids, this could end badly. They could develop type 2 diabetes and gain unhealthy weight.
Also, remember that caffeine is also present in these drinks. Caffeine works in decreasing insulin sensitivity. That’s why blood glucose levels tend to rise in people who have consumed an energy drink. The more caffeine you take, the less insulin sensitivity.
Dental Effects of energy drinks on kids
Often, people stay away from sugar and acidic foods in the hope of protecting their teeth. What happens when you combine these and present them in a fancy can? Kids will reach for them, and this has a myriad of repercussions.
Take the acidity of energy drinks, which is pretty high thanks to their low pH. When you ingest these drinks, this acid comes into contact with your teeth. And it slowly erodes the enamel. The sugar creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, making your teeth prone to cavities.
It gets worse when you brush the teeth immediately after ingesting the drinks. At this point, the enamel is weak and can get damaged with ease.
So are energy drinks good or bad for kids?
In the past years, the consumption of energy drinks by kids has risen. Almost half of the young population has tried these drinks. And of these, another half consumes these drinks regularly.
Some do so to enhance their competitiveness in the field during physical exercises. Others drink them to stay up late studying for exams. For others, it is all about increasing their alcohol endurance as they party all night.
As kids do this, they put themselves at risk. You have seen that these drinks can cause a multitude of complications, including migraines, insomnia, anxiety, and stomach upsets. In some rare cases, people have died. The risk of death increases with every drink.
In most cases of toxicity, caffeine and guarana are to blame. These are key ingredients in these drinks, and thus the chances of overconsumption are high.
There is a lot of misinformation out there, with some people regarding energy drinks as dietary supplements. And for this reason, kids may not be fully aware of what they are putting in their bodies.
Thus, doctors, parents, and caregivers should combine efforts and keep their children from accessing these drinks. While studies may be inconclusive on the long-term effects of these beverages, their short-term effects are not anything to write home about.