JAMA Takes an In-Depth Look at Energy Drinks
The Journal of the American Medical Association weighs in on energy drinks, and the risk they pose.
By Erin Hicks
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THURSDAY, Dec. 20, 2012 — Joining a growing number of researchers and policy makers, theJournal of the American Medical Association(JAMA) pointed in two reports to the health risks of energy drinks for consumers.
The reports, both published online, reviewed the risks associated with caffeine in most energy drinks and with the somewhat common practice of combining energy drinks and alcohol. They recommended action by the government and doctors.
In October the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received reports of five deaths linked to Monster Energy, a popular energy drink that contains 160 mg of caffeine per 16-ounce can.
In November, the FDA received reports of 13 deaths over the past four years possible linked to 5-hour energy, an energy shot that contains caffeine and the vitamin B12, among other energy boosters.
Despite those reports, the energy drink market remains a multibillion-dollar industry. Thirty-one percent of teens and 34 percent to 51 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds report regular consumption of energy drinks, according to the JAMA reports, which noted that the drinks pose a number of health risks, including:
- Increased heart rate
- Irregular heart rate and palpitations
- Increased blood pressure
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia,
- Increased urine production
- Hyperglycemia, or increased blood sugar, which can be especially harmful for those with diabetes or other metabolic health problems.
Risks of Energy Drinks and Alcohol
The mixing of alcohol with energy drinks has become increasingly popular among adolescents and college students. In a survey of college students, as many as 56 percent report mixing energy drinks with alcohol, according to a 2007 study in theNutrition Journal.
One risk of the mixing alcohol with energy drinks is that the caffeine contained in most of them can reduce the sensation of intoxication, leading some who imbibe both types of beverages to engage in risky behaviors such as driving that they would normally avoid when intoxicated.
Energy drinks typically contain 80 to 140 milligrams of caffeine, or about the same amount contained in a 5-ounce cup of coffee or two cans of cola, report author Jonathan Howland, PHD, Department of Emergency Medicine at Boston University.
Alcohol and energy drinks can also lead to risky sexual behaviors. A recent study published online in theJournal of Caffeine Researchfound college students who drink caffeinated energy drinks mixed with alcohol are more likely to have casual sex, which is often risky sex.
Howland recommend that policy makers hold energy drink manufacturers accountable for claims regarding the health and psychosocial benefits of energy drinks, and more research to be done to examine the effects of mixing alcohol and energy drinks with risky behaviors, perceptions of intoxication, and increased alcohol consumption.
Energy Drinks and Caffeine-Related Side Effects
JAMA also looked at the link between energy drinks and caffeine-related adverse effects in a report by Kent A. Sepkowitz, a physician in the Department of Medicine, Infection Control at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Since energy drinks aren’t required to list their caffeine content, people susceptible to caffeine poisoning may ingest unsafe amounts, according to Sepkowitz, noting that "unintentional caffeine overdoses have resulted in serious illness and rare deaths."
He recommend that physicians ask their patients about their use of energy drinks, particularly young men, who are the heaviest users. He also recommended that the FDA require manufacturers to note the caffeine content of energy drinks on the product labels.
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