Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
It´s probably a good bet that most of us have relied on the pick-me-up boost a caffeinated beverage offers every now and again. It´s also likely that many of us rely on such beverages more than not. For those of us who do drink more than our fair share of caffeine-laced energy drinks, coffees, and colas, it´s probably also a good idea to check out the latest information from a recent government report.
The report in question, released last week by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), suggests that the number of people who have sought emergency treatment after consuming energy drinks and other highly-caffeinated beverages has doubled nationwide during the past four years.
This timeline follows closely the same period of time in which the so-called supercharged energy drink industry has surged in popularity throughout convenience stores, night clubs and college campuses.
The report said that, from 2007 to 2011, the number of ER visits involving these types of drinks shot up from 10,000 to more than 20,000–gleaned from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). Most of these cases have involved teenagers or young adults, said the report. These findings are significant, especially since in the neighborhood of 90 percent of Americans are looking for a caffeine fix on a daily basis.
A report by Johns Hopkins University states that more than half of those who are getting caffeine boosts are consuming more than 300 milligrams per day, and an estimated 20 to 30 percent are taking in in excess of 600 mg per day–the equivalent of six cups of coffee, 12 sodas, or four energy drinks.
The report found that during the study time frame, more males than females took a trip to the ER due to an energy drink-related issue. And patients were most often between the ages of 18 and 39. Notably, the largest increase was seen in people 40 and older, for whom ER visits jumped 279 percent from 1,382 in 2007 to 5,233 in 2011.
And 58 percent of energy drink-related ER visits in 2011 were for adverse events linked to consumption of energy drinks alone. The remaining 42 percent involved energy drinks in combination with prescription drugs (mostly Adderall and Ritalin), alcohol, and/or street drugs.
The report follows some disturbing data from two studies in 2009 and 2010 that showed kids between the ages of 5 and 7 consumed an average of 52 mg of caffeine per day, kids 8 to 12 about 109 mg per day and those 13 to 18 consumed an average of 144 mg per day.
Most experts agree that, for adults, 200 to 300 mg of caffeine (up to four cups of coffee) per day is fine, and even beneficial in some instances (based on a recent study linking health benefits to coffee and tea consumption). But in children, especially young children, caffeine should be limited, or not allowed at all. And even in adults, 500 to 600 mg of caffeine per day can have negative effects on people, especially those who are more susceptible to caffeine.
Caffeine affects the central nervous system, usually making the body more alert, but it has also been shown to cause restlessness, sleep disturbance, nervousness, irritability, heart arrhythmia, headache and upset stomach. Excess consumption can also lead to dependence and intoxication, which may amplify any of the above symptoms, causing even further abnormalities, such as high fever, body tremors and sensory disruptions.
Experts say that when caffeine becomes less like a buzz and more like a zap, users should think about giving it up, or at least cutting it back.
The report doesn´t specify which symptoms brought people to the ER but is still calling all energy drink consumption a “rising public health problem.”
Several emergency room physicians said they have seen a surge in the number of patients suffering from symptoms that could be related to energy drink consumption, and said that in most of these cases, patients said they had recently consumed an energy drink prior to their ER visit.
“A lot of people don’t realize the strength of these things. I had someone come in recently who had drunk three energy drinks in an hour, which is the equivalent of 15 cups of coffee,” Howard Mell, an emergency physician in the suburbs of Cleveland, who serves as a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians, told ABC News. “Essentially he gave himself a stress test and thankfully he passed. But if he had a weak heart or suffered from coronary disease and didn’t know it, this could have precipitated very bad things.”
The findings of the report also follow reports last fall of 18 deaths that may have been linked to energy drink over-consumption–including a 14-year-old Maryland girl who died after drinking two large cans of Monster Energy drinks.
Despite that report, Monster said it does not believe the cause of death was directly related to consumption of its product.
The rash of deaths has led to two senators calling upon the FDA to launch an investigation into the incidents and the safety concerns over energy drinks and their ingredients.
The energy drink industry maintains that its drinks are safe and there is no proof the rise in ER visits and deaths can be linked to its products.
The American Beverage Association also said in a statement this week that the SAMHSA report does not provide solid data on the overall health of the patients, what symptoms brought them into the ER, or their overall caffeine intake.
The authors of the SAMHSA report said it was based on responses it receives from about 230 hospitals each year, a representative sample of about 5 percent of ER departments nationwide. The agency then uses those responses to estimate the number of energy drink-related ER visits across the country.
The more than 20,000 cases estimated for 2011 represent a small portion of the annual 136 million ER visits tracked by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The FDA said it would consider the findings of the report, but pressed for more information before it undertakes a broad review of the safety of energy drinks later this spring.
“We will examine this additional information … as a part of our ongoing investigation into potential safety issues surrounding the use of energy-drink products,” FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said in a statement.
Consumer Reports lists a ratings guide on the caffeine content of 27 top-selling energy drinks and energy shots on its website.