The Dangers of Energy Drinks

May 12, 2015
Energy Drinks | Physician One

The rising popularity of energy drinks has given many health professionals cause for concern, thanks to a growing number of health emergencies related to these caffeinated beverages. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Dawn Report, energy drink-related ER visits doubled between 2007 and 2011 and have steadily increased since. There have also been several fatality filings against both Monster Energy and 5-Hour Energy, although such filings don't necessarily mean these beverages actually caused the deaths in question. Whatever the case, energy drinks aren't without risk, especially when consumed in large quantities.
Caffeine Toxicity
Approximately 80 percent of U.S. adults consume caffeine on a daily basis. In low doses, this popular stimulant reduces fatigue and aids concentration, while causing relatively few troublesome side-effects. In higher doses, however, it can cause serious problems. Once a person consumes around 500 milligrams of caffeine - the equivalent of five cups of coffee – he or she risks caffeine toxicity, which can result in tremors, headaches, nausea and heart palpitations. At higher levels, caffeine can even cause mania, seizures, hallucinations and strokes.
Energy drinks can contain anywhere from 75 milligrams to over 200 milligrams of caffeine per serving, so it's not that difficult for a person to accidentally ingest too much. Making things worse, some of these beverages contain other legal stimulants like ginseng and guarana, which can exacerbate symptoms.
Mixing with Alcohol
Since alcohol is a depressant and energy drinks are stimulants, the combination can be dangerous. By masking the effects of alcohol, stimulants promote heavier drinking. They can also give a person the impression he or she is not impaired, leading that person to attempt to drive or perform other dangerous, complex tasks. Since alcohol and caffeine are both diuretics, they can also promote severe dehydration, causing the body to become overheated or worse.
The Impact on Children
While energy drink manufacturers tend to target teens and young adults, younger children often fall victim to their negative side effects. According to a recent study that analyzed the American Association of Poison Control Center's National Poison Data System, over a three-year period, more than 40 percent of energy drink-related reports to U.S. poison control centers involved children under the age of 6. This is especially troubling since very young children experience major side effects after ingesting only small amounts of caffeine.
Important Takeaways
In reasonable quantities, energy drinks shouldn't be a major threat to human health. That said, if you overindulge, you may suffer a range of troubling side-effects. Regular consumption of energy drinks has also been linked to dental problems even when the drinks are sugar-free. If you do choose to consume these beverages, avoid alcohol and keep them away from children. You should also drink plenty of water to combat the beverage's diuretic effects.

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