Why energy drinks may be a health hazard

Because of the way energy drinks are labeled, it can be difficult to know how much caffeine is in a drink.

They’re fruity, they taste good and they give you that boost of energy you need to get through the day. But energy drinks can be harmful. Toxicologists at Wisconsin Poison Center urge parents to use caution and common sense when using energy drink products — for yourself and especially for your children.

From Jan. 1 through April 30 this year, poison centers across the country received reports of 1,060 individual cases of energy drink exposures; of those, 664 were by children age 18 and younger. In Wisconsin, we responded to 18 cases; 11 were children age 18 and younger and six kids needed medical attention.

What’s the problem?

Energy drinks contain highly concentrated amounts of sugar, caffeine and other ingredients. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diets of children and adolescents.” Caffeine in moderate doses generally is considered safe for adults. If you have a teenager, he or she should not drink more than 100 milligrams of caffeine per day. That’s about the amount in a cup of coffee, according to experts who published in the journal Pediatrics.

Unfortunately, because of the way energy drinks are labeled, it can be difficult to know how much caffeine is in a drink. The drinks can contain natural caffeine-containing ingredients that are not listed separately such as yerba mate, taurine, cacao or guarana. Because these drinks are marketed as “dietary supplements,” they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and there is no limit to the amount of caffeine that can go into them.

Drinking too many energy drinks at one time or drinking one too fast can cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Stomachache
  • Vomiting
  • Nervousness
  • Tremors
  • Restlessness
  • Mood swings
  • Seizures
  • Sweating
  • Changes in heart rhythm
  • Diarrhea
  • Chest pains
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Kidney problems

How to get help

If you are concerned about a reaction you are having to an energy drink or if you have questions about whether you should drink one, call Wisconsin Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. Experts are available all day, every day, to answer your questions and help you in a poisoning emergency. Calls are free, fast and confidential.

If you or someone you know can’t breathe, collapses or has a seizure, call 9-1-1 right away.

Meg Lesnick– Meg Lesnick, external relations specialist, Wisconsin Poison Center

The Wisconsin Poison Center, located in Milwaukee, provides 24-hour, toll-free poison information for all individuals in Wisconsin. For any poison emergency, call (800) 222-1222

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