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With hundreds of “energy drink” products on the market, lots of people—from sleep-starved students to office workers to athletes—chug them back to boost mental or physical alertness. Now a position paper by the American College of Sports Medicine published in Current Sports Medicine Reports warns of some of the pitfalls of turning to energy drinks for a buzz. The potent mixture of caffeine, sugar and other stimulants like guarana in many of these drinks can overstimulate the nervous system, causing higher blood pressure and racing heart rates, which in extreme cases can trigger sudden cardiac death.

Though most healthy adults can drink modest amounts of energy drinks without significant concerns, the authors of the ACSM paper warn that children and adolescents are at higher risk of complications because of their smaller body size, lower overall caffeine exposure, and potential for heavy and frequent consumption patterns.

Additionally, a 2015 study in PLOS ONE discovered that instances of brain injury during sports play were higher among adolescents who consumed energy drinks. Perhaps they make young athletes feel more invincible, leading to hazardous behavior during exercise. ACSM recommends stricter regulation of caffeine content in these drinks; disuse of marketing to vulnerable populations through avenues like social media; and better non-industry-funded research on the health risks of frequent consumption.

Do you or your clients drink energy beverages to get a lift? Do you think government agencies should better regulate these drinks? What do you consider the major health concerns of heavy consumption? Or do you believe the reported dangers are overblown? Send your responses to Sandy Todd Webster at [email protected].

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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