Following the tragic death of an American teenager after drinking a combination of Mountain Dew, a latte and an energy drink, I felt it appropriate to update and republish this article.
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 and carbonated water. 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. High energy drinks are labeled and branded 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 ‘what you shouldn’t do’ some teens mix high energy drinks with alcohol. Some teen athletes drink them to perform better (this is dangerous) during a sporting event.
Kids have tried these drinks as tweens. Here was the conversation we had a few years ago 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 not to drink because they were dangerous! I told him he shouldn’t drink them. You tell him too, he doesn’t believe me.
Me: Michael, are you really drinking these drinks? Do you know they aren’t for kids to drink?
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.
***Parents, please be aware that high energy drinks are dangerous for children, especially for kids who drink them while doing sports***
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 increased 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.
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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.