Energy drink health risks: Survey reveals over half of youth, young adults who consume them experience serious side effects such as nausea, rapid heartbeat, and even seizures

Teenagers these days (and even some children) rely heavily on energy drinks to sustain them, so they can push themselves and do more over the seemingly limited day. However, this dependence comes at a great cost, according to science: Young adults who regularly consumed energy drinks have definitely experienced its nasty side effects, according to a study published in the journal CMAJ Open. The paper, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Waterloo, indicated that more than half of youth and young adults in Canada who drank energy drinks have had adverse reactions, with some even requiring medical assistance.

Energy drinks have been defined as beverages with “added dietary supplements.” Manufacturers may claim to have put many “natural ingredients” to boost energy, improve concentration, and increase performance; however, what differentiates these beverages from soft drinks and sports drinks is the amount of caffeine it contained.

An earlier study made about young adults who consumed energy drinks revealed that the beverage posed real dangers to a person’s health. Some of the adverse side effects listed in the study include arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), tachycardia (a condition wherein a person’s resting rate is over 100 beats per minute), and cardiovascular disease. In addition, it could also increase the risk of obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Furthermore, the risks are compounded when energy drinks are mixed with alcoholic beverages, as this may trigger higher consumption of alcohol per drinking session.

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For this study, the researchers evaluated the harmful effects of energy drinks using a population-based sampling method. This method, the team wrote in their study, “may be less susceptible to underreporting, because consumers are contacted proactively.” The survey was done online from November 6 to December 22, 2015, in both English and French. Participants were chosen based on a consumer panel, with each participant receiving an e-mail containing a link to the survey. Participants’ ages ranged from 12 to 24 years, with those between 12 to 17 were recruited through their parents.

Data gathered in the survey revolved around their consumption habits. For those who consumed energy drinks, follow-up questions targeted adverse reactions after drinking the beverage, wherein adverse reactions noted in the survey include “jolt and crash” episodes (an increase in energy followed by a sudden drop), headaches, shaking or “jitters,” difficulty sleeping, increased heartbeat, chest pain, malaise (can either be nausea/vomiting/diarrhea), seizures, decreased sexual performance, and dental pain. For those who chose either “fast heartbeat,” “chest pain” or “seizures,” they were also asked regarding the frequency of the incidences, with answers ranging from “never” to “more than once.” As a point of comparison, a parallel questionnaire was also given about coffee consumption in the survey.

Overall, researchers retained 2,055 respondents from the survey and examined their answers. From this number, 1,516 (73.8 percent) had consumed an energy drink, in comparison to 1,741 respondents who drank coffee. Of the participants who had an energy drink, at least 55.4 percent of the respondents had experienced an adverse reaction because of energy drinks. These included a fast heartbeat, difficulty sleeping, headaches, as well as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In extreme cases, participants reported having seizures after consuming energy drinks. Moreover, at least 3.1 percent of those who had experienced adverse effects have considered going to a hospital. In comparison, adverse effects brought by coffee consumption is noted at 36 percent, and only 1.4 percent of those who had the reaction considered going to the hospital. (Related: South Carolina teenager dies after consuming three caffeinated drinks in two hours.)

With the findings, researchers believe that the frequent consumption of energy drinks by young adults constitute a “public health issue,” seeing that the adverse outcomes brought about by energy drinks are far greater than those by coffee. In addition, these effects are consistent with direct effects of caffeine, which proffers that younger adults are more prone to the effects of the drug given their frequency of consumption.

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