Healthy Energy Doesn’t Come from a Can: Energy Drink Market Continues to Boom Despite Evidence of Health Consequences

| June 1, 2017

A Message from Dr. Christopher Still

Christopher Still, DO, FACN, FACP, Co-Clinical Editor, Bariatric Times; Medical Director for the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management, and Director for Geisinger Obesity Research Institute, Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, Pennsylvania.


Dear Readers,

Most of us need some way to get going in the morning or to stay awake as we burn the midnight oil. Today, the beverage market is saturated with energy drinks, which have become trendy choices for a quick pick-me-up when you need it any time of day or night. This is where I throw out the caution flag, and this message is applicable to us clinicians and our patients. There are safer ways to find energy, and the research bears that out; so its important to know the facts before reaching for that energy drink.

Consider the following:

• A recent study published in Journal of the American Heart Association[1] found that energy drinks were linked to more heart and blood pressure changes than caffeinated drinks alone. In this randomized, double-blind, controlled, crossover study in 18 young, healthy volunteers, the researchers observed that two hours after drinking 32 ounces of a commercially available energy drink, the heart’s electrical activity was abnormal compared to drinking a caffeine-matched control drink. They also found that both caffeine and energy drinks raised systolic blood pressure initially but blood pressure normalized faster after caffeine.

• According to a survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,[2] between 2007 and 2011, emergency department visits related to energy drink consumption doubled doubled from 10,068 visits in 2007 to 20,783 visits in 2011. In 2005, the number of energy drink related visits was below 1,500.

• The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is continuing to investigate reports of illness, injury or death of people who took products marketed as “energy drinks” or “energy shots.”[3]

Manufacturers and marketing companies are really pushing the idea that by using their product, you will be more alert; and if you’re tired, rundown, or suffer from insomnia, energy drinks could provide a convenient and cost effective remedy. Unfortunately, we seem to be easily swayed by the marketing tactics and appear to be consuming energy drinks more and more each day. While other soda products have seen a decline in sales, globally, the energy drink industry has gone from a $3.8-billion business in 1999, to a $27.5-billion business in 2015. In the United States, energy drink sales have grown by more than 5,000 percent since 1999.[4]

But again, I caution you to consider the more dangerous side effects of these “quick pick-me-up” products. The consumption of energy drinks (especially by young people) comes with a number of negative consequences.

Pediatrics in Review published a study by Dr. Kwabena Blankson, a Portsmouth Naval Medical Center pediatrician, detailing the potential health risks that energy drinks pose to teenagers (largely because of the amount of caffeine that the beverages contain).

Many school districts and sports organizations have actually taking steps to ban the use of energy drinks by student athletes. The National Federation of State High School Associations, in its position statement on energy drinks reported that in 2006, “over seven million adolescents reported that they had consumed energy drinks.” In late 2010, Virginia became the first state to ban energy drinks from public high school athletic functions. The Virginia High School League (VHSL) stated “there is no regulatory control over energy drinks, thus their content and purity cannot be ensured. This may lead to adverse side-effects, potentially harmful interactions with prescription medications (particularly stimulant medications used to treat ADHD), or positive drug tests”. I expect to see similar decisions made across the country as the negative effects of such products are better understood.

The fact is that kids don’t need caffeine at all, especially when they are in an environment where paying attention is critical to their success. Young people attending school with increased heart rates, elevated blood pressures, higher than normal levels of irritability, nervousness and anxiety is in my opinion, a recipe for disaster. There are much better and healthier ways to get calories and energy than chugging a sugar- and caffeine-laden energy drinks, such as adding a piece of fresh fruit.

My patients know that I have always recommended eliminating regular sodas and fruit juices from their diets (due to their high caloric/sugar content), but if you are a fruit juice lover, you could satisfy that urge by using a Crystal Light-type juice that simply mixes with water. There are also the Trop50 and other juices that offer 50 percent fewer calories than regular orange juice; the advantage is that the sugar is already taken out. As for caffeine, a simple cup of coffee can provide you that much needed “kick start” in the morning (again, avoid the heavily sugared flavored coffees, lattes, and specialty morning drinks). The difference between black coffee, at zero to three calories, and the energy drinks is the significantly higher sugar and calorie content, as well as the grossly increased caffeine ingredient.

So don’t fall for the hype. None of us—especially children/teens—need more caffeinated energy from a can. A balanced diet, exercise, and sufficient sleep should give you all the energy you need to get through the day.

Sincerely,

Christopher Still, DO, FACN, FACP

References

1. Fletcher EA, Lacey CS, Aaron M, et al. Randomized controlled trial of high-volume energy drink versus caffeine consumption on ECG and hemodynamic parameters. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017 Apr 26;6(5). pii: e004448.

2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (January 10, 2013). The DAWN Report: Update on Emergency Department Visits Involving Energy Drinks: A Continuing Public Health Concern. Rockville, MD. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/DAWN126/DAWN126/sr126-energy-drinks-use.htm Accessed May 19, 2017.

3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Energy “Drinks” and Supplements: Investigations of Adverse Event Reports https://www.fda.gov/food/newsevents/ucm328536.htm Accessed May 19, 2017.

4. Ferdman R. The American energy drink craze in two highly caffeinated charts. https://qz.com/192038/the-american-energy-drink-craze-in-two-highly-caffeinated-charts/. Accessed May 19, 2017

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