Energy drinks may pose health risks

We all seem to need a caffeine kick once in a while. Some can’t start the day without it. Others fade after dark. If your kick of choice in one of the myriad of highly caffeinated energy drinks, you may want to reconsider.

In a recent online commentary in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers from the University of Maryland School of Public Health and the School of Medicine at Wake Forest University say highly caffeinated energy drinks may pose a significant threat to individual and public health.  Amelia Arria, who directs the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland and Mary Claire O’Brien, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, began alerting the public and various state attorney generals to the risks of alcoholic energy drinks back in 2009. Their efforts culminated late in 2010 when the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission took action against Four Loko and similar products combining alcohol and energy drinks. The problem, and the risks, have not gone away.

“The practice of mixing energy drinks with alcohol — which is more widespread than generally realized — has been linked consistently to drinking high volumes of alcohol per drinking session and subsequent serious alcohol-related consequences such as sexual assault and driving while intoxicated…. ” the JAMA commentary states.

Don’t think that just because you don’t mix your energy drink with alcohol you aren’t at risk. According to researchers caffeine can have adverse health effects in susceptible individuals, something not enough people are aware of. In addition, energy drink consumption appears to be associated with alcohol dependence and other drug use, although the commentary acknowledges that more research is needed to clarify the underlying mechanisms for this possible correlation which has been observed in other studies.

The commentary recommends several “proactive steps to protect public health:”

  • Health care professionals should inform their patients of the risks of consuming highly caffeinated energy drinks;
  • Individuals should educate themselves about those risks (WebMD’s Energy Drink Directory is a good starting place);
  • Manufacturers should warn consumers about the risks of mixing their products with alcohol;
  • Regulatory agencies should require energy drink manufacturers to disclose caffeine content on product labels and display appropriate warnings.

“Recent action to make pre-mixed alcoholic energy drinks unavailable was an important first step, but more continued action is needed,” Arria concluded. “Individuals can still mix these highly caffeinated energy drinks with alcohol on their own. It is also concerning that no regulation exists with regard to the level of caffeine that can be in an energy drink.”

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