Energy drinks linked to unhealthy habits in teens

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Energy Drink Dangers(NaturalHealth365) When used by teens, Red Bull – as well as other energy drinks – can be a red flag, indicating a propensity for harmful behaviors.

According to new research, adolescents who consume sports and energy drinks at least once a week are likelier than their peers to indulge in a constellation of unhealthy behavior patterns, including smoking cigarettes.

Teenagers are unaware of the dangers ahead

In a just-published study in Journal of Nutrition, Education and Behavior, researchers at Duke University and the University of Minnesota teamed up to study the habits of 2,793 adolescents, equally divided by gender, at 20 public middle schools and high schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

14.7 percent of the participants reported consuming energy or sports drinks at least once a week. Teens in this group – boys and girls alike – reported higher use of video games, higher use of other sugary beverages, and more cigarette smoking than those who consumed the beverages less frequently.

Although weekly sports and energy drink consumers were more apt to engage in a cluster of unhealthy behaviors, there was one positive aspect: more frequent consumption of these drinks was also linked to higher levels of moderate-to-vigorous exercise and participation in organized sports.

Alarming trends connected to sport drink consumption

Among boys, weekly consumers of sports drinks watched an average of an hour more TV per week than boys who consumed the drinks less than weekly. When it came to the link between energy drinks and video games, the differences were even more pronounced – boys who drank energy drinks weekly spent an average of four hours more a week playing video games.

The popularity of sports and energy drinks among teenagers has experts worried.

While sales of sodas and fruit drinks have declined, the use of sports and energy drinks by adolescents has skyrocketed, tripling over recent years. Nearly one-third of American adolescents currently report consuming energy drinks. Apart from the link with unhealthy behaviors, the high levels of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, empty calories – and, in the case of energy drinks, caffeine – in these beverages have caused concern among nutritionists, physicians and other health professionals.

The difference between sports and energy drinks

Sports drinks, such as Gatorade or Powerade, contain as their key ingredients carbohydrates – in the form of sugars such as glucose, sucrose and fructose – and electrolyte minerals, such as sodium and potassium. The makers claim that these beverages help to maintain a ‘proper balance’ of body fluids by replacing electrolytes that have been lost in sweating during vigorous exercise.

In reality, physically active kids would be better off drinking coconut water or spring water with a pinch of Himalayan sea salt (and lemon juice) to replace electrolytes and hydration purposes.

The key element of energy drinks, on the other hand, is caffeine, which acts as a central nervous system stimulant. Energy drinks may also contain taurine, an amino acid, and assorted vitamins, but many experts say these micronutrients aren’t of real benefit. Although an 8-oz can of Red Bull has a relatively modest 80 milligrams of caffeine – about the same as in a cup of brewed coffee – many teens opt for the popular 20-oz. size, commonly sold in convenience stores, which yield about 200 milligrams of caffeine.

According to a recent article in Psychology Today, a mere 8-oz. serving of the Redline brand of energy drink contains a jaw-dropping 316 milligrams of caffeine. Making the caffeine content even more troublesome is the fact that energy drinks often contain substances – such as ginseng and ginkgo biloba – that may potentiate its effects. Another common ingredient, guarana, itself contains caffeine.

In general, the study showed that energy drinks were more strongly associated with unhealthy behaviors than sports drinks. In addition, energy drinks can raise blood sugar and blood pressure in children and teens, and cause or aggravate sleep problems.

What’s the problem with caffeine?

While mild to moderate amounts of caffeine may not be problematic for some adults, experts say this stimulant is totally unnecessary in the diets of children and adolescents. Excessive amounts of caffeine can cause insomnia, rapid heartbeat, digestive disturbances, anxiety, irritability, and muscle tremors.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says ‘sports drinks’ should be consumed by teens only after vigorous and prolonged activity. Energy drinks – because they offer no real benefit and may overstimulate the nervous system – should not be consumed by teens or children at all. By the way, the Mayo Clinic recommends that adolescents limit themselves to 100 milligrams of caffeine a day.

Energy drinks related to a threefold increase in drug and alcohol use

This study was not the first to point to an association between energy drinks and risky behaviors. In another recent study of 22,000 American teenagers, published in the February, 2014 issue Journal of Addiction Medicine, teens who used energy drinks reported higher rates of cigarette smoking, alcohol and illicit drug use within the past 30 days than those who didn’t consume the beverages. And the rates weren’t just slightly elevated – researchers noted that teens who used energy drinks were two to three times more likely to report other types of substance use as non-users of energy drinks.

Researchers were careful to point out that they were not saying that energy drinks lead to substance and alcohol use. No such cause-and-effect was shown in the study. Instead, the team theorized that teens who are “sensation-seeking” and “risk-oriented” by nature could be attracted to energy drinks; these same character traits could also cause them to experiment with alcohol, drugs and cigarettes – an important concept for parents and educators to recognize.

Bottom line: Sugar-laden, anxiety-inducing, caffeine-heavy drinks are the very last things that our teenagers need to be ingesting. Especially as they come of age in an increasingly toxic environment, in a population in which obesity, anxiety and stress are endemic.

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