Caffeine is an addiction many of us can relate to. For many of us, that extra jolt gets us going in the morning. For others, it's a way of surviving the dreaded 3 p.m. afternoon burnout. But for adolescents, they turn to energy drinks hoping to crank out a few more study hours for a final test or for the big report that's due. Others, especially athletes, see energy drinks as a way to enhance their performance.
Energy drinks also add stimulants, vitamins and herbal supplements that have yet to be fully researched and approved by the FDA. All natural, l-carnitine, ginseng, taurine, guarana, are buzz words being tossed around by the advertisements. If you look or watch any of the ads, you'll notice that they're geared towards adolescents. The flashy scenes, quick camera pans, the "coolness" factor, even the upbeat music are used to help promote these products.
What many people don't realize is that these beverages are a cocktail of caffeine, sugar, supplements and herbal extracts and can be dangerous. There are no studies or regulations showing what the combined additives in these drinks have on the body, let alone to the body of a growing kid. What we do know are the adverse side effects associated with caffeine consumption. Breathing problems, high blood pressure, dizziness, heart palpitations, irritability, change in sleep cycle patterns and nervousness are some of the common symptoms.
I am very concerned about the long-term lasting effects. My theory is that the younger a child starts on these drinks, the greater the chances are for him or her to take it to the next level. The most common abuse I see are college students who combine the drinks with alcohol, not thinking or realizing how it will affect them. Factor in prescription medication and the dangers increases exponentially. There are also several documented reports of caffeine-related deaths and seizures affecting healthy individuals.
It's not unusual for a kid to participate in several afterschool curricular activities, arrive home around 7 p.m., eat dinner, work on homework for three hours and finally they're off to bed between 11 and midnight. The following morning it starts all over again with them waking up at 6 a.m. so they can get to school by 7:30. What worries me is that kids are not getting enough natural sleep. Adolescents need to keep with their sleep hygiene. Caffeine, in any form, greatly alters their sleep schedule.
I provide the same recommendation to all patients and their families who consume an abundance of caffeine: eat healthy, exercise on a regular basis and get enough sleep. Adolescents should not be relying on a concoction-based drink to keep themselves going.
Karen S. Bernstein, M.D., is at Advocate Medical Group, Yacktman Pediatrics, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.