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The Buzz on Energy Drinks

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Kids and teens reach for energy drinks when cramming for exams, to get over an afternoon slump or to enhance athletic performance. With energy drinks’ "amped-up" marketing campaigns and sponsorship of extreme sporting events, it’s not surprising that almost half of kids and teens are guzzling them. So what’s the buzz about?

What Are Energy Drinks?

Energy drinks are sold alongside soft drinks, juices and sports drinks. They are designed to provide a temporary mental and physical boost. Many energy drinks are loaded with stimulants including caffeine as an ingredient on its own, plus caffeine from guarana and yerba mate plants, along with herbs, amino acids, vitamins, sodium and other minerals. These drinks can contain lots of ingredients you don’t need.

Because of their ingredients, some energy drinks are classified as Natural Health Products (NHP) by Health Canada. The presence of an 8-digit NPN (Natural Health Product Number) indicates that Health Canada has approved the item as a Natural Health Product.

What Do the Ingredients Do?

Caffeine

  • Is a natural stimulant that can cause anxiety, jitteriness, rapid heart rate, difficulty sleeping and an upset stomach.
  • Withdrawal symptoms of caffeine include headaches, fatigue, irritability and poor concentration.
  • Guarana and yerba mate are plants that naturally contain caffeine. Guarana has about 40 mg caffeine per gram. Manufacturers are not required to list on the label the caffeine content derived from either guarana or yerba mate.
  • Some energy drinks have 80 mg of caffeine per 250 mL (twice the amount found in soft drinks), not including caffeine from guarana or yerba mate. Health Canada recommendations for caffeine intake are:
    • 45 mg per day (ages 4-6)
    • 62.5 mg per day (ages 7-9)
    • 85 mg/day (ages 10-12)
    • No more than 400 mg/day for adults, the equivalent of 3 cups of coffee

Herbs & Taurine

  • Ginkgo biloba and ginseng are common additions to energy drinks for their "performance-enhancing" benefits. There is no scientific, peer-reviewed research to suggest that these ingredients improve athletic performance. In fact, these herbs may interfere with drugs such as warfarin and may affect blood clotting.
  • 1 gram of taurine (an amino acid-like compound) is often found in a 250 mL can. Taurine is not an essential nutrient and can be found naturally in meat and milk.

In addition to caffeine, some energy drinks have higher sugar content, at times equivalent to or more than, a can of regular pop. Energy drinks won’t help your star athlete stay hydrated - the sugar content along with the caffeine and carbonation can cause stomach discomfort and won’t quench thirst. For this reason they are not a good choice while exercising.

Before Buying an Energy Drink, Remember:

  • Prominent health organizations have expressed serious concerns about the safety of energy drink consumption by children.
  • As some warning labels note, children and pregnant or breastfeeding women should NOT consume energy drinks.
  • Energy drinks can provide a hefty slug of extra calories and caffeine that are not necessary.
  • Energy drinks should never replace food nor should they be consumed on an empty stomach.
  • Mixing energy drinks with alcohol can mask intoxication and lead to overconsumption of alcohol.
  • Like other supplements, energy drinks can interfere with medications. Talk to your doctor if this is a concern.

The Take-Home Point

Talk to your kids about avoiding beverages with unnecessary and potentially harmful ingredients. Plain or chocolate milk, 100% fruit juice and water are all better drink choices. The best way for kids to stay energized and alert is by eating a healthy balanced diet, getting enough sleep and keeping active.

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