Members of the men's swim team at Midlakes High School in Rochester, N.Y., would often complain of feeling dizzy, shaky and hyper during practice; sometimes they'd vomit in the middle of a workout.
Coach R.C. Weston knew their sickness wasn't related to lack of conditioning or overtraining. "It was directly related to their consumption of energy drinks," he said.
The swimmers admitted that downing an energy drink before practice didn't help their performance -- in fact they were left feeling unfocused and dehydrated -- but they drank them anyway because they "taste amazing" and the "heightened sensation makes you feel more energetic." Team members are now banned from drinking them while in training.
A new report by University of Miami experts in the March issue of Journal Pediatrics, published online today, warns that caffeine-containing energy drinks like Red Bull, Rock Star and Monster -- not to be confused with sports drinks like Gatorade -- may do more than just give young athletes the jitters. They may harm the health of children, especially those with diabetes, seizures, cardiac abnormalities or mood and behavior disorders. Energy drink overdoses in children as young as 5 have been reported both here and abroad and in some cases have resulted in seizures, stroke and even sudden death.
While the paper contains no new information per se, lead author and pediatrician, Dr. Steven E. Lipshultz, said he believed this was the first systematic review of the effects of energy drinks on children 19 and younger. "We looked at 121 sources. More than two-thirds were previously published scientific literature plus government agency and special interest group reports; the rest were the websites and marketing materials from the markers of energy drinks," Lipshultz explained.
Lipshultz said the authors wanted to create a comprehensive resource for pediatricians, sports coaches and families to get accurate information about what's in energy drinks and what problems they can cause for young people. Energy drinks are the fastest growing U.S. beverage market with sales expected to top $9 billion in year 2011. More than half the market is under 25 years of age and 30-50 percent of adolescents and young adults consume energy drinks. A quick perusal of packaging, websites and marketing material for the beverages shows they are clearly aimed at the youth market.
Manufacturers of the popular beverages bristled at the notion that the products could put young people's health at risk. Jack Owoc, the CEO of VPX, the company that produces the Redline series of energy drinks, objected to the idea that all high-caffeine beverages should be measured by the same standard. He said his line of beverages -- some of which contain 250 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce can -- are dietary supplements and that the drinks already contain package warnings that they are not for sale to those younger than 18.
"Redline is a dietary supplement and dietary supplements fall under strict [good manufacturing practice] guidelines set forth by the FDA," Owoc said in a statement. "Whatever the guidelines the FDA sets up we will gladly follow."
In a written response, Maureen Storey, senior vice president of science policy at the American Beverage Association, an industry group, said the report "does nothing more than perpetuate misinformation" about energy drinks.