Energy drinks growing in popularity despite lack of knowledge about contents
JANESVILLE — Janesville school nurse Diane Campton has seen the effects of energy drinks in teens.
They've come to her office feeling horrible, and their pulses racing. They usually admit to having energy drinks—as many as three—in the morning.
"I've had a couple experiences like that," said Campton, who sees students at all of Janesville's high schools.
The popularity of the high-caffeine drinks is increasing, but local health officials guess most kids and teens don't know what they're drinking or what the health effects could be.
Some local health officials said adolescents should steer clear of energy drinks.
"As far as kids go, they flat out shouldn't drink them," said Dr. Patrick Meyer, a pediatrician with Dean Clinic in Janesville.
In general, energy drinks have more caffeine than coffee, said Katie Schroeder, health educator at the Rock County Health Department. One serving of some drinks has as much caffeine as one to three cups of coffee, but many drinks contain two servings in a can.
A 1.9-ounce can of 5-hour Energy has 215 mg of caffeine, while an 8-ounce can of Monster Energy has 92 mg. That compares to a 12-ounce can of Mountain Dew at 54 mg of caffeine or a 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew at 91 mg.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children have no more than 100 mg of caffeine a day. A typical 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 100 mg, Schroeder said.
The drinks contain a "high amount of calories but no nutritional value," Schroeder said. "It's so important for people to understand they're not getting much from the drink other than energy."
The drinks are not regulated, so the content is not always printed on the products. The growing popularity of the drinks comes as doctors and legislators call on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate and regulate the products.
From 2007 to 2011, a government study released in January estimated the number of emergency room visits involving energy drinks shot up from about 10,000 to more than 20,000, according to an Associated Press article. Most of those cases involved teens or young adults, according to a survey of the nation's hospitals, the Associated Press reported.
Officials at the emergency rooms in Janesville say they have not seen an increase or concerning amount of energy-drink-related cases.
Meyer, the pediatrician, has not seen firsthand any kids with toxic effects from energy drinks. But after reviewing a few medical articles about energy drinks for this story, he said he wondered if he should not start screening for energy drink usage during kids' checkups.
"The more you hear about this, it might be something we should do," he said.
The concern centers on the ingredients, which are sugar plus stimulants and caffeine that far exceed a can of soda or cup of coffee, he said.
Consumption can result in irritability, anxiety, mental confusion, tremors, increased heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, headache, digestive problems and either sleepiness or an inability to sleep, he said.
"If you got enough, it could actually have a heart rhythm disturbance," he said.
Stopping drinking them after a regular routine could result in withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue, headache, drowsiness, inability to concentrate, feeling depressed, irritability and possibly nausea, he said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics states energy drinks are not appropriate for children in adolescence and should never be consumed, he said.
Even bigger problems can result when energy drinks are mixed with alcohol, he said. The stimulants counteract the alcohol so people don't feel drunk and consume more, he said.
Energy drinks are not available to buy anywhere in the Janesville schools, but kids can bring them to school and drink them in class, depending on the teacher, Campton said.
Caffeine is bad for the stomach when there's already stomach irritation, whether it is from an energy drink, soda or coffee, she said.
Stomach acid production is a little higher among teens than among 20-year-olds, she said, and if they're not eating correctly or at all, "it's going to catch up with them."
Caffeine stimulates more acid production, which leads to more stomachaches, she said. With lots of acid in your stomach and no food, the acid will irritate the stomach lining sooner or later, she said.
"I tell them, 'Feed your acid,'" she said.