Written by P. Humbargar
The FDA has announced that it was investigating five deaths possibly linked to Monster energy drinks. Monster is also being sued by the family of a 14-year-old girl with a heart condition, who died last year after consuming two cans of the drink. Although Monster, of course, denies any culpability and intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit, parents are rightly concerned about the possible harmful effects energy drinks may have on their children.
Energy drinks are the fastest-growing type of soft drinks in the United States, with sales of nearly $9 billion last year, and sales this year expected to top $10 billion. The drinks contain high amounts of caffeine along with other chemicals, which act in conjunction with caffeine.
Young adults, teens, and even children are consuming energy drinks at an increasing rate with the belief that the drinks will give them more energy, help them lose weight, or perform better in sports.
Experts, however, are generally in agreement that energy drinks have no real benefits. According to Dr. Steven Lipshultz, professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami and co-author of a report on the health effects of energy drinks, energy drinks may, instead, interfere with sleep, causing a person to become more tired; and the high amounts of sugar they contain could impede weight loss.
There is growing evidence that the unregulated amounts of caffeine contained in energy drinks, in combination with the other unregulated and little-studied chemicals they contain, may have harmful effects on the heart, especially in children with heart conditions.
Besides high amounts of caffeine, energy drinks often contain chemicals such as guarana, taurine, L-carnitine, ginseng, and yohimbine. The effects of these chemicals have not been well studied, but most of them tend to increase the heart rate and blood pressure, as does caffeine. There is also evidence that some of the chemical additives in energy drinks actually cause the flow of blood to the coronary arteries (those that supply oxygen to the heart) to slow and become sluggish.
In truth, very little is understood at the present about any of these chemicals; and the long-term health effects they may have on children and adolescents whose bodies and minds are still developing are totally unknown.
However, it is known that caffeine can be toxic, and even deadly, in high enough doses. What constitutes a dangerous dose for a child may very well be much lower than what it would be for an adult. A child’s genetic makeup may also play a role in how his or her body processes caffeine.
It is also known that children with heart conditions are especially vulnerable to the effects of caffeine—and often, a heart condition may be present in a child, though not yet diagnosed.
Despite the potential danger of caffeine overdose, there are no warnings on energy drink cans, and any child, no matter how young, can purchase them.
Signs of possible caffeine toxicity include heart palpitations, headache, vomiting, dizziness, anxiety, tremors, and a general feeling of un-wellness. Medical help should be sought immediately if any of these symptoms are noticed after a child has consumed energy drinks.
The American Academy of Pediatricians says that “energy drinks are not appropriate for children and adolescents and should never be consumed.”
In light of how little is actually known about the possible harmful effects energy drinks may have on children, this is certainly good advice. The manufacturers of energy drinks are in the business to make money—not to look out for the welfare of children. It is therefore up to parents and other responsible adults to be aware of and limit children’s consumption of these potentially dangerous products.
What are your thoughts on energy drinks and children? Should restrictions be placed on the drinks because of their potentially harmful effects? Please, share your opinions with us in the Comments section.