In a recent study published in the journal Nutritious foodsResearchers evaluated adverse health events associated with energy drink consumption among youth and children in terms of preexisting health conditions and other predisposing factors.
Review: Energy drinks and adverse health events in children and adolescents: a literature review. Image credit: Life Sciences / Shutterstock
Energy drinks marketed as physical and mental enhancements contain stimulants such as guarana and caffeine and are known to have cardiovascular side effects, including heart arrhythmia and arterial hypertension. Despite these known risks, the consumption of energy drinks is still high, especially among adolescents. Among underage energy drink users, chronic high energy drink consumption is higher in children than in young adults (16% vs. 12%), with high energy drink consumption being around 12% in both.
Additionally, when consumed with restricted stimulants or by individuals with chronic medical conditions, energy drinks can cause cardiovascular events such as myocardial ischemia and arrhythmias. Studies show that in adults, consuming energy drinks immediately can increase arterial blood pressure, while in young people, arterial stiffness and increased blood pressure reduce the efficiency of the left ventricle.
Various studies have reported hepatic, neuropsychological, and renal effects of acute energy drink consumption. In the current study, the researchers reviewed English language reports that included a confirmed study population of energy drink users under 18 years of age.
Cardiovascular effects of energy drinks
The results report a link between excessive energy drink consumption and various adverse effects on the health of minors. A total of 18 cases were included in the review, and most of the health events were related to neuropsychiatric or cardiovascular systems. Additionally, 61% of these cases were associated with pre-existing medical conditions or other triggers.
Of the case reports included in the review, 45% reported cardiovascular events such as arterial hypertension, cardiac arrhythmia, sudden coronary artery dissection, and acute coronary vasospasm. In some cases, there were pre-existing medical conditions or triggers, and in a few cases, cardiovascular adverse events occurred without other triggers or medical conditions after consuming large amounts of energy drinks for several days. There has been one case of sudden coronary artery dissection after consumption of energy drinks with a similar caffeine content.
The high caffeine content of energy drinks is believed to be associated with adverse cardiovascular outcomes, as caffeine is associated with increased left-ventricular inotropy and vasoconstriction, leading to hypertension. In addition, high energy drink consumption is thought to increase arterial stiffness and the incidence of supraventricular extrasystoles, leading to higher diastolic and systolic blood pressure.
Although the neuropsychiatric effects of energy drinks are understudied, long-term use of caffeinated energy drinks is thought to be associated with panic attacks, psychotic episodes, hyperactivity, and cerebral cortex hyperactivity leading to headaches. In addition, a recent study on energy drink use in adults found that four subjects had new seizures after consuming energy drinks containing the amino acid taurine and caffeine, and that the seizures resolved when they stopped drinking the energy drinks.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recognizes four disorders caused by caffeine, including intoxication, anxiety, caffeine-related disorders, and sleep disorders. A study examining energy drink use among 5th to 12th graders found that caffeinated energy drink users were 66% more likely to have impaired concentration and physical activity compared to non-caffeinated energy drink users. Energy drink consumption is believed to be linked to negative effects on brain development, leading to insomnia, lack of concentration and hyperactivity.
Effects on other organs
Excessive consumption of energy drinks has been associated with liver damage due to the presence of niacin in these drinks, despite the individual’s history of liver transplantation and increased risk of hepatic toxicity. The review also discussed the issue of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis associated with energy drink consumption. Other studies included in the review also discussed the effects of excess energy drinks on the kidney system, such as the risk of chronic kidney disease.
Overall, the findings suggest that excessive consumption of energy drinks, especially those containing caffeine, has a significant negative impact on the health of minors. Consumption of energy drinks in combination with stimulants or party drugs may affect adolescent cardiovascular and neuropsychological health in individuals with pre-existing medical conditions. Minors should be educated about the potential dangers of energy drink consumption to help them make informed choices.