By: Writer: Ahmad Khan
Many adults and adolescents buy and consume energy drinks during festive events, exam nights, and during and before exercise. Energy drinks are caffeinated non-alcoholic beverages. Besides caffeine, energy drinks generally have other ingredients, such as sugars, vitamins, and non-nutritive stimulants, besides the main ingredients. Additional components can be botanical extracts, food colors, and flavoring.
Consumption of classic sugar-sweetened beverages such as carbonated soft drinks and fruit juice has decreased in most countries. On the other hand, globally, the consumption of energy drinks since their introduction in the 1960s has increased due to fancy ads and buzz words in advertisements that can drive adolescents and young adults to partake (Hammond & Reid, 2018). For example, in the United States of America, energy drink intake rose from 0.5% to 5.5% among young adults between 2003 and 2016. In addition, in Canada, a survey age group of ages 12 to 24 indicated that 73.6% of participants in the survey report that caffeine intake contained energy drinks at least once (Vercammen et al., 2019).
Furthermore, people often consume more than one energy drink. For example, a survey from Canada showed that 16% of consumers had more than two energy drinks at once, which practically exceeds the daily recommended dose of caffeine. As a result, it can lead to adverse effects (Reid et al., 2017). For example, in the USA, emergency room visits have grown from 10,068 visits in 2007 to 20,783 visits in 2011 due to the adverse effects of caffeine-containing energy drinks.
Country to country regulations on energy drinks’ ingredients, labeling, and health warnings vary widely. Some countries have lenient requirements, which leads to no restrictions on energy drinks companies’ ads.
They can say whatever they would like regarding their brand and its performance effects on the human body. On the other hand, some countries have restrictions on energy drink companies.
They do not permit them to outline the performance effect that their products may not contribute or provide. Moreover, the absence of strict regulation results in aggressive advertisements showing incredible performance effects. In addition, discounted prices are one of the most potent determinants which influence young adults and adolescents to buy more energy drinks, and it has enhanced their dominance in the beverage industry’s marketing.
So far, they are not many studies on the long-term effects on human health, but some studies show the short-term effects of energy drinks. This paper includes the effects of caffeine, sugar, and ginseng. On some of the ingredients, such as glucuronolactone, few studies have been done. Thus, our knowledge of this substance is inadequate to conclude whether this substance is harmful or beneficial.
Public health concerns are increasing regarding high caffeine in energy drinks. Most common energy drinks contain between 70 to 200 mg of caffeine per serving. Caffeine is an ergogenic substance that can increase heart rate and blood pressure. Also, moderate ingestion of caffeine has ergogenic effects on athletes’ performance. For example, it can improve athletes’ endurance when caffeine is taken before and during exercise (Ganio et al., 2009). In addition, caffeine can contribute to the mobilization of fatty acid and enhance stimulation of working muscle to use fat as the source of energy that delays the reduction of muscle glycogen and permits prolonged exercises.
Adverse events of caffeine typically appear when an individual adult ingests more than 200 mg (per Health Canada, recommended maximum daily dose for children age 10 to 12 is 85 mg) of caffeine and the manifestation of the adverse effects are headache, sleeplessness, nervousness, irritation, tachycardia, nausea, arrhythmia, stroke, and death (Al-shaar et al., 2017).
Some studies indicate that it is still unclear which ingredient or combination of components contributes to the reported adverse events related to the energy beverages ingestion (Basrai et al.,2019).
Even though the Food and Drug Administration in the United States has not approved ginseng, people still use this well-known traditional herb for different purposes that are not research-proven, such as increasing energy, memory, and relieving stress. In addition, athletes use ginseng to enhance their performance in sports.
All side effects of ginseng or not known yet. However, some people might develop severe skin reactions, fever, sore throat, swelling of face, or tongue burning sensation. Other common side effects might include diarrhea, insomnia, sleeplessness, headache, palpitation, blood pressure disorder, breast tenderness, and vaginal bleeding.
Another essential ingredient of energy drink is sugar. One can contain approximately 54 g of sugar; a teaspoon of sugar might weigh about 4 g, so typically a can of energy drink contains about 13 teaspoons of sugar. The long-term impact of the body on excessive simple sugars is associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and finally, diabetes.
It is essential to note that even though some studies have indicated positive effects of energy drinks on endurance in exercise performance, other studies have shown that energy drinks do not impact the exercise performance of athletes. For example, in a study that included 19 professional female volleyball players, energy drink consumption did not significantly impact grip strength, vertical jump, and anaerobic power (Fernanedez-Campos et al.,2015).
To answer the question of why some studies showed a positive impact on the physical exercise of athletes and some studies did not show any effect, it may be that the variations in subjects, gender, the dose of caffeine, and other components of energy drinks might have caused the inconsistency in the results.
Energy Drinks in Afghan culture:
In Afghanistan, the culture of consumption of green tea or black tea is common; people usually take green or black tea several times during the day. Green tea and black tea have caffeine (green tea about 35 mg caffeine per cup and black tea 39-109 mg caffeine per cup), and to add energy drink consumption on top of the daily intake of caffeine from green tea and black tea can quickly put people at the risk of caffeine overdose. Thus, people should consider the quantity when consuming green tea and energy drinks to avoid the risk of caffeine overdose.
In the Afghan community, energy drinks are considered drinks that help people, and the TV ads regarding energy drinks do not provide any warning signs or age limit. Sometimes families might encourage or let their children consume caffeine-containing drinks such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and different energy drinks brands. Per the American Association of Pediatrics, energy drinks can pose potential risks to the health of children and adolescents and should never be consumed by them. Local health authorities need to remind the energy drink companies to highlight that it is not safe for children to have caffeine-containing energy drinks in their ads and labeling.
Parents, doctors, coaches, and teachers should take the initiative to address the issues of energy drinks with young adults, patients, athletes, and students in informing them about the effects and risks, as well as the main ingredients of many energy drinks such as caffeine, glucuronolactone, ginseng, and sugar. Parents, especially, should not allow their children to have energy drinks.
Studies have shown the adverse effects of excessive caffeine consumption. However, the positive results and long-term effects of some ingredients of energy drinks are still not proven.
Limited consumption of energy drinks by healthy adults is less likely to cause significant adverse effects (Higgins et al., 2010). However, people with medical diseases, especially heart disease, should always consult with their doctors before consuming energy drinks.
Therefore, people need to be cautious, and if they decide to consume energy drinks, they have to drink responsibly.