If an energy drink is your mood booster of choice, it may be time to put down your pick-me-up.
"`Energy drink' is a marketing term, which promotes the drinks as a way to overcome mental and physical fatigue," says Leo Smith, MD, a family medicine physician with
Annadel Medical Group in Santa Rosa. "As a result, they are packed with stimulants—not just caffeine, but others such as guarana and ginseng."
Caffeine is a major ingredient in most energy drinks. A survey of several brands of energy drinks compiled by the Nutrition Department at University of California, Davis found 72 to 150 milligrams of caffeine per 8-oz. serving.
"That by itself might not seem so bad, but it starts to add up if you drink two or three cans a day, or if you buy cans in 12-, 16- or 20-oz. sizes," Dr. Smith says. "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that adults consume no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine each day."
Energy drinks have other ingredients with medical claims, such as taurine (lowers risk of blood pressure or diabetes) or carnitine (increases metabolism and endurance). "However, some of these ingredients don't have enough data to either support all these claims or prove they are safe for consumption," Dr. Smith says.
Another ingredient in most energy drinks is added sugar. Studies have shown that added sugar can lead to an increased risk for health problems such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes and even cardiovascular death, Dr. Smith adds. "There are not enough health benefits to justify including energy drinks in your diet."
That advice is especially true for children. One study examined more than 5,100 calls to poison control centers in the United States about energy drinks over a three-year period. Of those calls, 40 percent were about children younger than 6 who had accidentally consumed an energy drink and suffered major problems—such as seizures or heart arrhythmia.
"Children should not have caffeine, period," Dr. Smith says. "The American Academy of Pediatrics says too much caffeine can negatively affect a child's brain and cardiovascular system. Energy drinks are especially dangerous because it can be hard for kids to tell how much caffeine is in a drink."
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