Highly caffeinated drinks, kids not a good mix, experts say

Energy drinks can harm heart, central nervous system, doctors say

By Roxy Tyler - Web producer, Cleveland Clinic News Service

Energy drinks are just about everywhere, and many adults and children are attracted to them as a way of feeling more alert, but experts warn the drinks could be dangerous for children, as well as adults.

While most energy drinks come with a warning that they are not recommended for children under 16, there are currently no federal laws that prohibit the sale of energy drinks to minors.

"Energy drinks can be attractive to kids, and teens often get their hands on them and then they enjoy the effects of feeling awake, but they're also very sugary," said Diana Schnee, RD of Cleveland Clinic Children's. "These beverages are attractive to kids not only because of their taste, but also color and appearance, or it can be just a popular social thing to consume these, but it's not necessarily a good idea for any child or adult."

Schnee said high levels of caffeine aren't safe for growing bodies.

"It's important to remember that caffeine is a stimulant," she said. "Adults typically drink it for alertness or to be awake or more focused during the day, but it is still a stimulant. If we take a stimulant and put it in a child, who is substantially smaller than an adult, these effects can be amplified.

Caffeine can have an effect on both a child's central nervous system and cardiovascular system that can be harmful, and in some cases, even deadly." 

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require manufacturers to spell out exactly how much caffeine is in a product.

Schnee said labels often say the product contains green tea and other amino acids as well as caffeine, but they do not always give information about exactly how many milligrams of caffeine are in the drink.

While an average cup of coffee contains roughly 100 milligrams of caffeine, a commercial energy drink can have as much as 240 milligrams.

Also, labels that indicate a product is not recommended for children or pregnant women are voluntary and not mandated by law.

Current guidelines say children 12 and under should avoid consuming any caffeinated products and suggest teens limit caffeine to no more than 100 milligrams per day.

Schnee says adults shouldn't have more than 400 milligrams per day. 

For older teens and adults looking for a pick-me-up, she said they should consider other dietary options before reaching for energy drinks or caffeine to fuel them through their day.

"Aim for a balance of whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats to help stabilize blood sugar," said Schnee. "Also make sure you're getting adequate fluids - mostly water - throughout the day. Caffeine is dehydrating, so too much might make you feel a little bit lethargic at the end of the day instead of having more energy." 

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