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Red Bull Gives You Wings, Gives Your Kids Heart Attacks

Posted May 14 2009 5:00pm

Energy drinks such as Red Bull, Rockstar, and Monster — laced with high doses of caffeine (up to seven times the amount in a cup of strong coffee, or 14 cans of cola) and other stimulants — have been shown to increase blood pressure, cause heart racing, and increase anxiety, in a study published last fall by Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Another study by Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, published this March, found similar concerns:

The researchers found that healthy adults who drank two cans a day of a popular energy drink experienced a 10-point increase in their blood pressure and a five- to seven-beat increase in heart rate. The study is published in March in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy.

These are “healthy adults” being affected this way.  But our children are also downing energy drinks in record numbers, looking for a quick after-school pick-me-up, or as a sports booster, without understanding the real risks. With their smaller bodies, the 50 to 500mg of caffeine typically found in one can will have much greater effects on children. There is also a concern that children are becoming addicted to caffeine because of energy drinks.

In the study, Griffiths highlights the cases of nine patients treated by a US poisons unit after having an energy drink called Redline, which contains 250mg caffeine. Eight of the nine were boys, with the youngest aged 13. Their symptoms ranged from nausea and vomiting to tremors, chest pain and a racing pulse. ( )

The PEI Medical Society and the Maine Legislature want sales of energy drinks to children banned, after more and more children are showing up in emergency rooms and school nurse rooms with symptoms of caffeine intoxication, from elevated heart rates and blood pressure to headaches, sweating, anxiety, palpitations, nausea and sleep disturbances.

The symptoms of over exposure to caffeine had become serious enough for the Florida Poison Control Center at the University of Miami/Jackson to begin tracking it last year. The caffeine over exposure tracking discovered children as young as two were being brought in to Florida emergency rooms for symptoms resulting from drinking an energy drink containing excessive amounts of caffeine.

Opponents to this measure believe that it would be unenforceable, and that it should be a parent’s responsibility to educate and monitor their own children.  Ideally this would be true, however, it seems that education of adults is necessary first, since frequently parents are the ones providing these drinks for their children in the first place.

Energy drink industry representatives maintain that their products are not marketed to children, and in fact “not suitable for children” is plainly printed on the label of most drinks.  However, advertising campaigns centered on extreme sports, implying that the drinks are performance enhancers, are very appealing to young people, and we seem to have not noticed the warning labels.

These studies, while new, are only confirming fears that have been around for years.  But new energy drink products have continued to come on the market and sales have continued to skyrocket despite these concerns.  Johns Hopkins experts are saying the warning labels need to be more prominent and include information on caffeine overdose, just as over-the-counter caffeine pills already do.

If you’re looking for a quick energy boost, try these natural alternatives.  They won’t leave you dehydrated, coming down from sugar highs, or in the emergency room.

Photo: Mishel Churkin via Creative Commons

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