The dangers of caffeine-loaded beverages.
If your child or teen regularly consumes energy drinks, you have cause for concern. In October, 2011, an Expert Panel commissioned by Health Canada recommended that these caffeine-laden drinks not be sold to kids under 18 because of their potential health effects, including insomnia, anxiety, seizures and fatal heart arrhythmias. The panel went so far as to say that these drinks should be treated as drugs and only be available from a pharmacy. Some countries like France and Denmark have banned these drinks totally.
Health Canada opted instead to require manufacturers to limit the amount of caffeine to 180 mg in any single-serving, state on the label they are not recommended for children or pregnant/breastfeeding women, and warn that the drink should not be mixed with alcohol. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq noted that “it’s up to individuals and parents to make their own decisions about what they drink.”
So here is what you need to know.
What are energy drinks?
Endorsed by pop stars and athletes, energy drinks are designed to quickly increase energy levels and alertness. With names like Red Bull, Monster, and Red Dragon, these drinks are found in corner stores. Their chief ingredients are caffeine and sugar. The amount of caffeine in energy drinks starts at 80 mg and goes upward from there. On average, one energy drink can deliver as much caffeine as one to three cups of coffee. Added herbs such as guarana, kola nut and ginseng increase the effects of these drinks.
Energy drinks should not be confused with sports drinks such as Gatorade. Sports drinks are meant to help rehydrate and boost electrolytes. These drinks don’t contain caffeine. They do, however, often contain excess amounts of sugar, artificial colors and flavours, which can contribute to obesity, tooth decay and more.
What are the health effects?
Even in low doses, caffeine can cause restlessness, anxiety, nervousness, insomnia and headaches, in adults and teens. In high doses, it can cause delirium, vomiting, tremors, seizures, and convulsions.
Kids under 12 who consume energy drinks are more susceptible to the effects of caffeine. Often they will suffer from hyperactivity, sleeplessness, mood swings and anxiety and will not be able to focus in school. Even bed wetting has been associated with consumption of these drinks. Kids who take asthma and ADHD medications are more at risk.
Kids can become dehydrated when consuming energy drinks and this effect is increased when they are combined with alcohol. Energy drinks in combination with alcohol have been implicated in the deaths of young people worldwide.
What are safe limits?
Kids under 12 should have no more than 85 mg of caffeine per day. That means that even one energy drink could put them over their daily limit. For adults, 400 mg of caffeine per day is considered safe. Teens should have much less than this per day.
Are there alternatives?
Kids and teens don’t need energy drinks or even sports drinks to help them with athletics. Energy drinks stimulate the release of adrenalin, which has the effect of making kids more aggressive, but does not necessarily improve performance. Their focus can actually be impaired by the amount of caffeine in these drinks.
If your child lacks energy, look at his sleeping habits and make sure he is eating regular healthy meals and not just filling up on cereal bars and snacks. Excess sugar and carbohydrates in the diet can cause blood sugar levels to crash. This makes your child feel sleepy during the day and he may feel he needs a caffeinated drink to wake him up.
What active children need most is extra water. Significant electrolyte loss through sweating only occurs with extreme exercise and when playing sports in the hot sun. In those cases, fruit and/or vegetable juice with extra water will provide adequate electrolyte replacement without adding a lot of extra calories.
Make sure your child gets plenty of vegetables and fresh fruit on a regular basis. These foods are rich in electrolytes as well as vitamins and nutrients that young bodies need to grow in a healthy way.
Keep your child well hydrated with plain water throughout the day, but especially when playing sports. Schedule water breaks every 15-20 minutes.
How do I convince my child?
While it’s relatively easy to eliminate or limit consumption of energy drinks with kids under 12, teens may be harder to convince. The best thing you can do is show them the evidence. Sit down and read this article to them, do some Internet research together on the health effects of energy drinks, suggest that they monitor their own physical response after drinking energy drinks, and warn them about the dangers of mixing these drinks with alcohol.