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Should kids be kept away from energy drinks?

By Everett Themer - posted Tuesday, 20 November 2012


My son really likes to drink energy drinks. I'm not sure why, but apparently texting and playing video games simultaneously is a lot more tiring than I had ever imagined. I must admit that while I was aware he was buying these beverages, I paid little attention to them or their contents. Packaged in cans with edgy sounding names and looking as if they just popped out of some new video game, I always assumed that they were just another type of sports or juice drink. It wasn't until I learned of reports potentially linking illnesses and deaths to the over-consumption of these products that I gave energy drinks a second thought.

These beverages, marketed primarily to children and fatigued adults, are generally considered safe, but there are some risks associated with them. These risks are most prevalent when the drinks are consumed in excessive amounts or combined with certain medications. Most energy drinks contain what the manufacturers call herbal energy blends. These blends not only contain high levels of caffeine, they contain additives such as guarana seed extract, L-carnitine, taurine and inositol.

The ingredients themselves are generally not considered dangerous, but under the right circumstances they can be harmful. Guarana seed extract an additive extremely high in caffeine, can cause heart arrhythmia and raise blood pressure. For those who have a history of seizures, L-carnitine may make them more likely to occur as well as worsen the symptoms of hypothyroid conditions. Taurine, a conditional amino acid included in almost every energy drink, does have some cardio-vascular benefits, but can interact with the prescription drug lithium. This interaction can cause a buildup of the drug in the users system, potentially affecting their mental health. Inositol, an additive that has been known to have some medical uses, may worsen the symptoms of bi-polar disorder. Ironically, one of the possible side effects of inositol can be tiredness.

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Children who take medications for various illnesses may be oblivious to the dangers of mixing these herbal supplements with their medications. Outwardly healthy children who may have an as of yet undiagnosed health problem can experience severe side effects or death from the over use of these drinks. The parents, not only unaware of the fact that their children are consuming these drinks, may also be uninformed of the potential interactions. It is these risks that drove both France and Norway to ban energy drinks for a time, although those bans have since been lifted. These risks also prompted Australia and New Zealand to regulate them under their "Food Standards Code", requiring the amount of caffeine they contain to be listed on the product. After being investigated by the United Kingdom, pregnant women and children were cautioned about the use of Red Bull, one of the most popular energy drinks on the market.

I am certainly not advocating the ban of either these beverages or their ingredients. The truth is that all of the ingredients do have valid uses or benefits for some users. Everyone may need a quick pick me up once in a while and these drinks provide an option other than the candy coated sugar high that many people might turn to despite their diabetes or desire to lose weight. However, just like anything else, too much of these supplements can be dangerous, especially for children.

In the United States, you have to be eighteen years old to buy cigarettes and twenty one years old to drink. Most of the places that sell energy drinks already sell cigarettes, liquor or both so they are familiar with selling age-restricted products. There are cold and allergy medications that were at one time available over the counter but are now restricted to people of legal age. These same medications also have a limit on the quantity a person can purchase in a given period. Soon, if some law makers get their way, the size of the soft drink you purchase may be regulated. Why would these legislators feel the need to monitor the amount of soda you can drink or how much cold medicine you are buying but not be concerned about how many energy drinks your children are drinking?

In June of 2012, the parliament of Latvia approved legislation to prohibit the sale of energy drinks to anyone under the age of eighteen. As state and local governments in the U.S. continue to act as though they are obligated to legislate common sense for people, they seem to have over-looked a potentially serious danger. The only restriction on buying energy drinks in the United States seems to be that you need to have a few dollars in your pocket. My sixteen year old son is not able to buy fuel injector cleaner for his car at the local mega-mart because of a policy put in place requiring that the purchasers of certain types of products be at least eighteen years old. Nevertheless, even though the manufacturers have labeled these drinks as not intended for children, he can buy as many of them as it takes to give him the shakes.

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About the Author

Everett Themer is a creative director for a marketing company specialising in keeping small businesses relevant in a global economy.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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