Ask a Nurse: Danger of Energy Drinks

Pamela is an RN, MSN/Ed.

Pamela is a mother of 6 amazing children ages 11 to 24. She is a nurse educator and loves to travel overseas to work in medical clinics and teach health-related topics to schools and communities. She has been married to her best friend, Steve, for 29 years. She has many different interests including reading, writing (NOT arithmetic!), baking, teaching, and spending time with her family. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband and two youngest daughters.


That’s not energy you’re drinking!

Do you grab an energy drink now and then as a quick pick me up when you are feeling exhausted? How about some of the energy drink that claim they are “all natural?”
First of all, the caffeine content is usually higher in energy drinks than coffee (average 8 oz. cup=133 mg), tea (average 8 oz. cup=53 mg), or soda (average can=54 mg, except mountain dew, which is 71 mg; the FDA limit for sodas).  Do you ever check to see what other supplements are in your energy drink?  Here is a list of supplements commonly used in energy drinks:


  • Ephedrine – A stimulant that works on the central nervous system. It is a common ingredient in weight-loss products and decongestants, but there have been concerns about its effects on the heart .Some people are very sensitive to ephedrine and even one can is too much for them. Symptoms which may be dangerous are severe heart palpitations, nausea and vomiting and tremors.
  • Taurine – A natural amino acid produced by the body that helps regulate heart beat and muscle contractions. Many health experts aren’t sure what effect it has as a drink additive. I tell my kids to stay away from any supplement that can affect your heart.
  • Ginseng – A root believed by some to have several medicinal properties, including reducing stress and boosting energy levels.
  • B-vitamins – A group of vitamins that can convert sugar to energy and improve muscle tone.
  • Guarana seed – A stimulant that comes from a small shrub native to Venezuela and Brazil.

Guarana contains caffeine. Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system (CNS), heart, and muscles. Guarana also contains theophylline and theobromine, which are chemicals similar to caffeine. If your drink has caffeine listed and guarana, you are taking in too much caffeine, which can be harmful.

  • Carnitine – An amino acid that plays a role in fatty acid metabolism.
  • Creatine – An organic acid that helps supply energy for muscle contractions. Your heart is a muscle; this could be harmful to your heart.
  • Inositol – A member of the vitamin B complex (not a vitamin itself, because the human body can synthesize it) that helps relay messages within cells in the body.
  • Ginkgo biloba – Made from the seeds of the ginkgo biloba tree, thought to enhance memory.

Are Energy drinks ok for children?
More than half of the energy drink market consists of children and young adults. Although endorsed by sports stars and targeted to younger people, energy drinks are not for kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics summed it up, concluding that “energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.”

A 14 year old girl named Anais Fournier drank two 24 ounce energy drinks while hanging out with her friends. The next day she went into cardiac arrest and in six days she was dead. The official cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity.

Caffeine overdose is on the rise; in 2005 emergency rooms reported 1,128 cases and by 2008 that number spiked to 16,055.

Energy drinks and alcohol: Danger!

On Nov. 17, 2010, the FDA ruled that premixed drinks that include both alcohol and caffeine (alcoholic energy drinks) are unsafe. Although this stopped sales of such beverages, the ruling did not curtail the practice of combining alcohol with energy drinks. People just mix the drinks themselves. Surveys find that 25 to 50 percent of college students regularly consume combinations of energy drinks and alcohol. This is a dangerous practice.

  • A new laboratory study compares the effects of alcohol alone versus alcohol mixed with an energy drink on a cognitive task, as well as participants’ reports of feelings of intoxication.
  • Results show that energy drinks can enhance the feeling of stimulation that occurs when drinking alcohol.
  • However, energy drinks did not alter the level of behavioral impairment when drinking alcohol, particularly for impaired impulse control.
  • The combination of impaired impulse control and enhanced stimulation may make energy drinks combined with alcohol riskier than alcohol alone.

In one case in September, a 19-year-old arrived at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia complaining of crushing chest pains and shortness of breath. Doctors determined he was having a heart attack, but the usual examinations did not reveal the cause. The young man reported that he had spent the night drinking Four Loko (an energy drink with alcohol in it). Dr. Robert McNamara, chairman of the emergency medicine department at Temple’s medical school, concluded that the drink had probably led to the heart attack.

Another mother stated, “My son was in an ICU, intubated, after mixing energy drinks with wine. He collapsed; thank God a friend called 911. He was in a coma for days, woke up frantic and ripped out all those tubes. He almost didn’t make it. NO! Energy drinks are causing many deaths, especially to young people that think they are harmless! “

Red Bull banned!
Red Bull may be the best selling energy drink in the United States, but it isn’t so popular in other countries. In 2000, the French government decided to ban Red Bull after the brand was linked to the death of an 18-year-old Irish athlete. The teenager died after drinking four cans of Red Bull at a game. French laws dictate the maximum amount of caffeine that companies can add to products, and Red Bull exceeds that limit. Denmark and Norway have also banned the drink. Other countries, such as Canada, require the can to carry a warning label for pregnant women and children.

Please don’t take a chance with your health, look at labels; see what and how much is in your drink! Don’t give kids energy drinks and warn your teens!

Until next week…

Be Well,
Nurse Pam

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