Just Say No to Red Bull, Monster, and Rock Star

Liver damage, kidney failure, seizures, psychotic episodes, heart palpitations, hypertension, heart failure, and death.   Have you ever worried about these ailments for your child? Well, you should if they drink caffeinated energy drinks.  Studies are emerging demonstrating the negative effects of Red Bull and other caffeine-rich energy drinks on kids. And the damage listed above is just the beginning. Experts and pediatricians are recommending that children, adolescents and teenagers think twice (or maybe even three times) before consuming caffeinated drinks.  And the same may be true for adults.

What the research says:

“Stimulant containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children or adolescents”.  That’s the conclusion of the American Academy of Pediatricians [5].  A pretty cut-and-dry conclusion.  But you may be thinking “sure, but is it really horrible for them to drink once in a while”.  Let’s be honest; Doritos really have no place in the diets of children or adolescents.  But that doesn’t stop kids from eating them, and we don’t ever worry about Doritos causing liver damage or heart failure, right?  So what makes Red Bull and other energy drinks such a problem? 

Here’s what the American Academy of Pediatricians would say to that question.  “Energy drinks pose potential health risks primarily because of stimulant content; therefore, they are not appropriate for children and adolescents and should never be consumed” [5].  The stimulants they are referring to are caffeine, guarana extract, taurine and ginseng.  Taurine, guarana and ginseng are herbal supplements that are commonly added to energy drinks to boost energy.   Although their effects on children are unknown, taurine, guarana and ginseng are not the largest cause of concern.  The excessive amounts of caffeine available in the drinks raise issues of toxicity, without even considering the synergistic effects that these stimulants may have when combined. 

How Much Caffeine Are We Talking About? And How Much is Too Much?

Red Bull and other energy drinks contain staggering amounts of caffeine.  The table below compares the caffeine content in energy drinks to that in other drinks typically consumed by teenagers and adults.   The amount of caffeine in energy drinks is typically 2 to 7 times higher than that of typical can of Coke or Pepsi.  When looking at caffeine concentration, the results are even more alarming, with energy drinks having anywhere between 3 to 30 times more caffeine per oz.  Yes, you read that right: these energy drinks have 3 to 30 times more caffeine than soda!  You would assume that much caffeine can’t be good for growing bodies.  But how much caffeine is too much?

Caffeine consumption for adolescents and children should not exceed 100 mg/day and 2.5 mg/kg per day, respectively [7].  So one Red Bull, when combined with a normal diet, can push caffeine consumption over the recommended limit for a child.  Rock Star and Monster exceed the consumption limits, as do the concentrated 5-hour energy drinks.  In addition “some studies have suggested that the caffeine content of guarana (40–80 mg per gram of extract) is not always declared in packaging and is additional to the listed caffeine content of energy drinks.  Hence, the caffeine dose may be higher than that listed on the beverage ingredients list.”  [11]. 

How sick can this stuff make you?

The following symptoms have been reported following caffeine intoxication or toxicity (when children or teenagers consume large amount of caffeine) [1]:

  • nausea/vomiting
  • headaches
  • heart palpitations
  • tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
  • hypertension
  • dizziness
  • chest pain
  • bilateral numbness
  • seizures
  • stroke
  • death

Although the prospect of these drinks causing death seems highly unlikely, reports of just that have been published recently.  In fact, according to the New York Times:

Since 2009, 5-Hour Energy has been mentioned in some 90 filings with the F.D.A., including more than 30 that involved serious or life-threatening injuries like heart attacks, convulsions and, in one case, a spontaneous abortion, a summary of F.D.A. records reviewed by The New York Times showed.

So how sick can this stuff make you? Pretty sick.  Ultimately, the drinks have extremely high caffeine content and can lead to caffeine toxicity.    Based on recent results, these drinks are not only have no place in the diets of children or teenagers, but actually should never be consumed by children.  And based on recent concerns, may not be good for adults either.

References:

1.     Caffeinated energy drinks--a growing problem. Reissig CJ, Strain EC, Griffiths RR. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2009 Jan 1;99(1-3):1-10. Epub 2008 Sep 21. Review.

2.     A survey of energy drink consumption patterns among college students. Malinauskas BM, Aeby VG, Overton RF, Carpenter-Aeby T, Barber-Heidal K. Nutr J. 2007 Oct 31;6:35.

3.     Safety issues associated with commercially available energy drinks. Clauson KA, Shields KM, McQueen CE, Persad N. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2008 May-Jun;48(3):e55-63; quiz e64-7. Review.

4.     Energy drinks for children and adolescents. Oddy WH, O'Sullivan TA. BMJ. 2009 Dec 10;339:b5268. No abstract available.

5.     Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: are they appropriate? Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.  Pediatrics. 2011 Jun;127(6):1182-9. Epub 2011 May 29. Review

6.     The "high" risk of energy drinks. Arria AM, O'Brien MC.  JAMA. 2011 Feb 9;305(6):600-1.

7.     Health effects of energy drinks on children, adolescents, and young adults. Seifert SM, Schaechter JL, Hershorin ER, Lipshultz SE. Pediatrics. 2011 Mar;127(3):511-28. Epub 2011 Feb 14. Review.

8.     Update in pediatrics: to take or not to take soft drinks, sports or energy drinks? Cinteza E.  Maedica (Buchar). 2011 Apr;6(2):157-8. No abstract available.

9.     Energy drinks: what is all the hype? The dangers of energy drink consumption. Rath M.  J Am Acad Nurse Pract. 2012 Feb;24(2):70-6.

10. Toxicity of energy drinks. Wolk BJ, Ganetsky M, Babu KM. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2012 Apr;24(2):243-51. Review.

11. Energy drinks: health risks and toxicity. Gunja N, Brown JA. Med J Aust. 2012 Jan 16;196(1):46-9.