A recent study reported more than half of young adults who consumed an energy drink experienced negative side effects such as headache, nausea and chest pain.

The University of Waterloo published a nationwide, online study on Jan. 15 that surveyed 2,055 young adults between the ages of 12 and 24 about their consumption of energy drinks. More than half of the respondents who consumed an energy drink reported at least one adverse side effect while only roughly one third of respondents who consumed coffee did.

Of those who reported experiencing health issues when consuming energy drinks, 26.5 per cent reported trembling and feeling jittery, 24.7 per cent reported faster heartbeats and 22.5 per cent reported 'jolt and crash' episodes consisting of increased alertness followed by a sudden drop in energy. Further, 5.1 per cent experienced nausea or diarrhea, 0.2 per cent reported having seizures and 0.5 per cent reported decreased libido.

"The current findings are consistent with those of Health Canada's Independent Expert Advisory Panel on Caffeinated Energy Drinks, which concluded that, although the probability of serious adverse events is low, given the high volume of use, the risk of adverse events 'is considered to be a public health issue,' " explained the authors.

The authors further suggested public health authorities should place regulations on the sale of energy drinks, such as minimum age restrictions and enhanced health warnings. However, the Canadian Beverage Association responded to the study saying that the results are "misleading."

The association argued that the study groups non-alcoholic caffeinated energy drinks together with alcoholic drinks that contain caffeine and "energy shots." The two groups are regulated differently by Health Canada, which deems one or two servings of a typical energy drink safe for both adults and teens. A typical serving contains around 80 mg of caffeine.

"The research is clear; CEDs are now available in more than 165 countries and have been in the Canadian marketplace since 2004. Energy drinks have been thoroughly tested and are considered safe by the world's leading health authorities," states the report.

Still, Michael Rieder, professor of clinical pharmacology at Western University, said the Waterloo study shouldn't be completely discounted. 

"The Canadian Beverage Association has a point, but only to a point," said Rieder. "The results may be somewhat larger than expected for the sample design, but there probably is an effect there, and I think people should be prudent."

Rieder further explained adverse effects of energy drinks depend on the amount consumed and the circumstances under which they are consumed. In some cases, young adults died due to the overconsumption of energy drinks.

While the majority of respondents in the study reported consuming only one or two energy drinks at the time of experiencing adverse health effects, around half reported concurrently drinking alcohol, participating in physical activity or consuming other caffeinated products, drugs and medications.

"The message I would take away from this is that energy drinks have a lot of caffeine," said Rieder. "Health Canada has guidelines for caffeine consumption, and I think people should be well-advised to have a look at them."


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