Are energy drinks safe?

Are energy drinks safe?

Kids downing hyper-named energy drinks, such as Monster, Amp and Rockstar, one after another has dietician Catherine Champagne worried.

“I’m concerned about the potential side effects, the jitteriness,” says Champagne, who does research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., which focuses on nutrition and preventive medicine.

Champagne was recently invited to speak with Louisiana senators considering a proposed ban on the sale of energy drinks and other highly caffeinated beverages to children under 16. The state's Senate Commerce Committee shelved the measure, but Champagne still supports curbs on energy drinks for children.

The energy drink industry has exploded in recent years, with sales of leading brand Red Bull reaching nearly 4 billion cans in 2009. The beverages promise enhanced performance, but experts say they're a potential health hazard.

Consuming too much caffeine can cause what experts dub "caffeine intoxication" associated with nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, upset stomach, tremors, rapid heartbeat, restlessness and pacing.

The FDA doesn't regulate energy drinks. But some products do carry warning labels, something the agency should require, say many health experts.

The amount of caffeine in energy drinks varies widely — from 80 milligrams in an 8.4 ounce can of Red Bull, about the same as a similarly sized cup of coffee, to 500 milligrams in a 1 ounce 5150 Juice, which can be mixed with any drink.

But caffeine is only part of the story since many of the drinks contain additives that act like caffeine such as taurine, an amino acid, and guarana, an herbal product.

"They stimulate and [in large quantities] they cause rapid heartbeat and raise blood pressure," Champagne says.

Energy drink companies, including Red Bull, defend the safety of their products, but do say they're not for everyone. "We do not recommend Red Bull Energy Drink to children [13 or under] or any other caffeine sensitive individuals," a company spokesman e-mailed Angie's List.

Critics say many of the drink makers appear to target children. Red Bull has a youthful website with a "Holy S***" category where web surfers can check out features like a biker ramping over a canyon. But kids aren't the aim, according to Red Bull's spokesman: "We believe our website appeals to consumers that share our passion for sports and culture."

Parents OK with their children consuming energy drinks should monitor how they tolerate the products and limit consumption accordingly, Champagne says. Although kids are her primary concern, she advises against anyone consuming more than one energy drink or shot at a time and urges extra caution for those with cardiovascular problems.

Champagne's certainly not buying the buzz about the drinks, which cost around $3 each.

"There's nothing [they] are going to give me that's worth extra money out of my pocket," she says. "That's the bottom line."

Inside the buzz

Caffeine and other additives in popular energy products:

  Drink size Caffeine Taurine Guarana
seed extract
Sugar Calories
Amp 16 ounces  142 mg 20 mg 150 mg 58 grams 220
Monster 16 ounces 160 mg 2,000 mg 0 mg 54 grams  200
Red Bull  8.4 ounces  80 mg 1,000 mg  0 mg  27 grams 110
Rockstar  16 ounces 160 mg 2,000 mg 50 mg 62 grams 280
5-hour Energy  2 ounces  138 mg  n/a*  0 mg 0 grams 4
NOS Powershot  2 ounces 125 mg  200 mg 0 mg  6 grams  30

* 5-Hour Energy contains 1,870 mg of an energy blend that includes taurine, but our calls requesting this specific amount went unreturned. Sources: Drink manufacturers,, Journal of the American Pharmacists Association


Richard D'Albergo


I think that a health expert or a doctor should be consulted before a young person consider drinking an energy drink

douglas hyer


just finished my 59th triathlon-I won my age group. Have tried Monster 2 times. Drank 1/2 a can before race. Felt terific during and after race. No bad effects or side effects. So far so good. Doug Hyer (age 67)



I agree with posting the coffee and soda's along with the energy drinks. High Fructose Corn Syrup is proven to be more addicting than cocaine. My children of teen ages have tried Mom or Dad's sip of coffee, had a soda, and had a small amount here and there of energy drinks. The soda by far has made them so hyped up you think they took drugs. I would warn about the side effects from soda more than anything else.

Linda McGrath


My elderly mother who has high blood pressure (not on meds) was drinking 2-3 Monster drinks each day...I ended up taking her to the Emergency Room with terrible back pains and belching...fortunately I was able to determine the cause of these pains..she is NO longer drinking Monster drinks and is doing much better!

Diane Lynch


Thank you for printing this story. In May, 2010, my 32 year old son passed out and hit his head on the sidewalk just a few minutes after leaving work. He died 5 days later from a traumatic head injury. His colleagues at work said he was drinking a lot of coffee and Red Bull because he was having a hard time sleeping at night and then staying awake at work. I've wondered what impact that had on his fainting and ultimate death. Thank you for alerting people about the potential hazards. It is very sobering



Even though I have been using energy drinks sparingly to be more alert at times, I agree that they are not healthy. Sugar is never healthy - neither is caffeine and the side effect of higher blood pressure should have anyone concerned.



To help compare on 20oz pepsi has 63 grams of caffiene.



Thanks for the post on this.

Jean Skoblar, RN


As a school nurse, I had a student develop a niacin rash from a 5 hour energy drink. Not serious, but not noted as a possible side effect.

sumner cahoon


for comparison the table above could have contained the caffeine in a cup of coffee or a coke

Barbara Sixt


I drink RockStar Zero Carb daily; it's a good alternative to coffee, which irritates my stomach. So far, no ill side effects but the caffiene is addicting. If I skip a day, I get headaches from caffeine withdrawl. Anything with caffeine is very dehydrating as well. Have to dink a lot of water when drinking these during the summer.

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