Everywhere you look these days you see energy drinks. At gas stations, grocery stores, and promoted on popular race cars, the bottom of snow boards, and the sides of motorcycle helmets.  Energy drinks are big business.  According to one source, in 2011, the sale of energy drinks accounted for nearly $9 billion in sales.  But are they safe?  And more specifically, are they safe for children and teenagers?

Energy drinks are obviously to young people. Should we be concerned?  What about kids playing sports and drinking energy drinks as a performance enhancer?

One problem with energy drinks is that they are considered “dietary supplements.” Dietary supplements are governed by specific legislation, which allows the drinks to escape scrutiny from the FDA. Because they are considered “dietary supplements”, the producers of these drinks are not required to disclose the ingredients.

Recent studies reveal that there are safety issues with energy drinks.  This should come as no surprise.  Keep in mind, products like “Ultimate Orange” and “Hydroxycut” were popular energy supplements with athletes and bodybuilders in years past, and some of those supplements allegedly resulted in serious health conditions, including death.  In fact, the primary ingredient used for years in stimulant supplements, ephedrine, contains essentially the same chemical structure as cyrstal meth.  Ephedrine is now regulated, and hence, OTC medications containing ephedrine or ephedra or pseudoephedrine are difficult to buy over the counter because the ingredients can be used to make crystal methamphetamine.

An example of the serious risks of some energy supplements is found in the following quote from the Los Angeles Times in 2001.

At least three football players who died this year–Devaughn Darling of Florida State, Rashidi Wheeler of Northwestern and Curtis Jones, who played for a Utah indoor team–were found to have traces of ephedrine in their systems when they died.

In September, the NFL added ephedrine to its list of banned substances, following the lead of the NCAA and International Olympic Committee.

The NFL bans the use or distribution of products that include ephedrine, unless they are prescribed for medical use by a team physician. Also, teams and players are banned from endorsing manufacturers or distributors of those substances.

The ingredients in energy drinks have the same effects and the same potential consequences as the energy supplements that have been linked to multiple deaths in athletes a decade ago.  For example, the literature suggests that energy drinks raise blood pressure, increase heart rate, and place individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular disease at increased risk for serious medical conditions.  In other words, the studies suggest that energy drinks could be harmful to certain individuals, especially younger individuals with undiagnosed heart conditions.

Note:  Some of the information contained in this blogpost came from an article written by Kevin I. Goldberg that appeared in the March 2013 issue of Trial magazine.