Energy Drinks: A Potentially Fatal Attraction
By Dale Peterson, MD – Building Health
Energy drinks have become exceedingly popular, especially among teens and young adults. Surveys have found that 30 to 50 percent of young people consume them on a regular basis.
Carrying names such as Red Bull, Monster, Venom, Adrenaline Rush, and Erektus the drinks claim to deliver more zip than other popular beverages. They do so by delivering loads of sugar and a large amount of caffeine in combination with a variety of other stimulants. A typical 16-ounce energy drink may contain 13 teaspoons of sugar and 70 to 80 mg. of caffeine, which is an amount equivalent to drinking four colas.
Consuming the beverages can have deadly consequences. A 14 year-old Maryland girl, Anais Fournier, died after drinking two Monster drinks while hanging out with her friends at the mall. Anais was found to have a heart defect that made her more sensitive to the drink’s effects, but fatal arrhythmias can occur in normal individuals as well. An otherwise healthy 28-year-old man suffered a cardiac arrest after drinking energy drinks during a day of motocross racing and a healthy 18-year-old man died playing basketball after drinking two cans of Red Bull.
Few consumers of energy drinks realize that it is possible to overdose on caffeine. Not only is it possible, 5,448 caffeine overdoses were reported in the United States in 2007. Forty-six percent of them occurred in persons aged 18 or under. High levels of caffeine can lead to elevated blood pressure, an irregular or racing heartbeat, and seizures. They can also trigger manic episodes in people with bipolar disease.
The drinks are particularly dangerous when consumed during physical activity. Their high sugar content impairs the body’s ability to absorb water and can therefore promote dehydration. This effect is compounded by the diuretic (water loss) effects of caffeine and other substances in the drinks.
Emergency room visits related to adverse effects of energy drinks have increased significantly over the past four years as the beverages have gained in popularity. Nevertheless, the products are flying off of store shelves as their appeal continues to rise.
Consequences of energy drinks can be increased by mixing them with alcohol, a practice that is becoming more and more common. The caffeine content of the beverages masks the sedative effects of alcohol tricking drinkers into believing that they are more sober than they actually are. This can result in drinking more alcohol that would otherwise be the case and increase the likelihood of taking risks such as driving while intoxicated. Alcohol is dehydrating and combining it with energy drinks increases the risk of becoming seriously dehydrated. It will also increase the severity of a hangover following the drinking episode.
Those who consume energy drinks on a regular basis are placing great stress upon the body. Over time this overtaxes the adrenal glands, which produce hormones that deal with stress. This can make the individual more susceptible to colds and other illnesses. It can also cause fatigue, which creates a demand for an even greater use of the drinks that are causing the problem.
The buzz that is obtained from an energy drink is not worth the short-term and long-term risks. It is far better to rely upon water or electrolyte replacement drinks to maintain energy levels. This is especially true when participating in sporting events. As the mother of a young man who died of seizures believed to have been caused by energy drinks stated, nineteen is too young to die.
Dr. Dale Peterson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Medicine. He completed his residency in FamilyMedicine at the University of Oklahoma. He is a past president of the Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians. He had a full-time family practice in Edmond, Oklahoma, for over 20 years and was a Chief of Staff of the Edmond Hospital. He was active in teachingfor many years as a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine through the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center.
Dr. Peterson left his full-time family practice in 1999 to consult with individuals who are seeking ways to restore and maintain their health through improved nutrition and other lifestyle changes. He founded the Wellness Clubs of America to give people access to credible information on supporting and maintaining their health. His monthly wellness letter, Health by Design, and his Health by Design E-Newsletter provide helpful information to individuals interested in preventing and conquering health challenges. His book Building Health by Design: Adding Life to Your Years and Years to Your Life was released in December 2010.
Dr. Peterson speaks regularly on subjects related to health and nutrition. He hosted a weekly radio program,Your Health Matters, on KTOK in Oklahoma City for five years. For the past nine years he has addressed questions from across the nation on his Your Health Matters weekly teleconference.He offers a free video LifeXtension course at www.drdalepeterson.com.