Does your teenager drink high energy drinks?
This article on adolescents and high energy drinks is part of a series on teenage nutrition. You can read the introduction to this series from these two articles “What Is On Your Family’s Breakfast Plate” and “Teenage Nutrition: Why You Should Pick This Battle For Your Adolescent.” We are very excited to bring you this and hope you feel comfortable to add your own thoughts, tips and suggestions.
Teenagers have busy lives. Between school, homework, activities, part-time jobs and a social life, teenagers struggle to fit everything into their time schedule. In the previous article from this series, “Is Your Teenager’s Caffeine Consumption Too Much?” we mentioned that some teens, especially those who are sleep deprived, use caffeine rich drinks like coffee and colas to stay alert. Some adolescents push it further and drink high energy drinks to get a more powerful extra energy boost. These energy drinks are formulated for this reason: a big boost.
Caffeine is not the only ingredient in these drinks. They are mix of sugar, vitamins, herbs, carbonated water and yes, high doses of caffeine. The amount of caffeine in high energy drinks is about three times the amount of caffeine from a cup of coffee. This figure changes from one high energy drink to another. Each country’s health labeling laws and food regulations are different. In general, high energy drinks go largely unregulated because they are classified as a food supplement.
The effect of social status influences the consumption of high energy drinks
Teenagers are widely influenced by the opinions of their peers and social status. And these high energy drinks are connected to a teenager’s social status. Most teens know these drinks shouldn’t be drunk to excess. And with warnings labels for children and pregnant women on energy drinks (depending in which country you live) consumption of these drinks can make a teen feel they are entering a game of doing something forbidden. I was surprised to learn that 30-50% of teenagers in America drink these status drinks. As a double dose of forbidden, some teens mix high energy drinks with alcohol. Some teen athletes drink them to perform better (this is wrong, as you will read below) during a sporting event.
Kids have tried these drinks even before they were officially teenagers. Here was the conversation we had last year between two 11 year olds: my daughter, her friend Michael (name made up) and I.
My Daughter: Hey mom, Michael is drinking those Red Bull drinks that you told us were dangerous. I told him he should stop. You tell him too, he doesn’t believe me.
Me: Michael, are you really drinking these drinks? Do you know they are bad for your health?
Michael: No, I didn’t know. But, it is okay. We only do it once in a while.
Me: Do your parents know that you drink these drinks?
Michael: Yes, they know.
Me: Michael, listen to me. These drinks are not made for teenagers. Really, you shouldn’t drink these drinks. But, if you, do not drink more than one at a time. They can be dangerous.
The nutritional side effects from consumption of high energy drinks
High energy drinks act like diuretics because of the large doses of caffeine. This diuretic pulls essential nutrients such as calcium and magnesium out of the teen’s body and into urine to be excreted. Calcium and magnesium are two key minerals that teenagers (because of their high growth pattern) need in higher quantities. Plus, energy drinks contain large doses of vitamin B, taurine and D-glucuronalactone. If a teen drinks more than one energy drink at a time, these added ingredients can add a strong, almost toxic jolt to a teen’s metabolism.
The combination of high physical efforts like sports and high energy drinks are dangerous
Unlike sport drinks, high energy drinks are not adapted to the body’s increased physical and cardiovascular needs during sport. High energy drinks have a pH of 3-4 and are classified as acidic. Combine this acidity with increase of acid production in the body’s vascular system during physical efforts and you have more chances for a sport related physical injury.
The diuretic effects, as mentioned before, increases a teen athlete’s risk of dehydration. During sport, the teen athlete’s need for water increases. High energy drinks do the opposite of what an athlete needs.
Energy drinks increase blood pressure and peripheral vasoconstriction. The double effects of physical activity and the drinks can cause arrhythmia, cardiac heart palpitations and abnormal heart rhythm.
Medications and high energy drinks
Children who take medications for asthma and attention deficient disorder should never drink high energy drinks. The combination of these pharmaceutical drugs with the side effects of energy drinks can be harmful. If you teenager is taking medicine, best advice is to discuss frankly with your child and your doctor about avoiding high energy drinks. Read this excellent article from a doctor’s view on energy drinks and children with ADHD and/or asthma.
The conclusion: Be open with your teen about high energy drinks
As a dietitian and mom I tend to focus a lot of my attention my kid’s health. Researching for this article the dangers of high energy drinks being over consumed plus the negative nutritional side effects have opened my eyes. I think we should be open with teens about these drinks. Although these drinks are not in the same class as drugs and alcohol, I believe we must be vigilant. Should these drinks be sold to teenagers? What are the labeling laws on these drinks where you live? Have your kids ever had a problem with these drinks?
Would love to hear from you. Shout out your opinion and I will answer.
Check out these other articles on teenage nutrition written in this series: When A Gain In Your Teenager’s Weight May Not Be A Concern, Teens and Endocrine Disruptors, Teens and Eating Disorders, Healthy Breakfast Ideas for Teens, Teens and Caffeine, Importance of Good Nutrition in Teens, Vitamin and Mineral Supplements in Teens,Vegetarianism in Teens. and Hormone Changes in Teens Affect Their Smell.
After writing this article, a father wrote me (see comments below) to express thanks about spreading awareness on high energy drinks. His son, 15 years old, probably died from trying one energy drink. Jim Shepherd wants to spread the word to parents and concerned parties about the dangers of these drinks. Please visit, share and like his facebook page to learn more and spread the knowledge.