Safety of energy drinks questioned

DEBATE is raging among health experts over whether it is safe to consume energy drinks, particularly when mixed with alcohol.

With an increasing number of people using the drinks to power their summer activities and halt holiday hangovers, experts are conflicted over their use.

A University of Wollongong academic this week called for the drinks, particularly those mixed with alcohol, to be banned.

Professor Sandra Jones said her team had found 12 to 17-year-olds reported feeling sick, having heart palpitations and even seizures after consuming the drinks.

Alcohol-energy drink mixers have been banned in some US states and parts of Europe because of the possible links with several deaths, including at least one in Australia.

Newcastle Drug and Alcohol Clinical Services area director Dr Adrian Dunlop said the jury was still out on their safety.

‘‘There’s not a lot of hard evidence either way,’’ he said.

‘‘Yes, they can be strong, but not dangerously strong in the sorts of quantities they are sold.’’

However experts stress the drinks, like anything, should not be consumed to excess.

University of Newcastle senior lecturer dietician Tracy Burrows did a systemic review of all the studies on energy drinks available.

She found just 15 studies since 1973 that looked at the drinks as a whole, not just caffeine or guarana, and said the evidence of inconclusive.

While the case study deaths were distressing, it was not clear whether energy drinks, general caffeine sensitivity or some other condition caused them. 

With more the drinks sold internationally, and in large quantities, it was likely they would be linked to more deaths, Dr Burrows said, but it was unclear whether they would be the direct cause.

‘‘There’s no long term research, which is what’s needed,’’ she said.

‘‘Caffeine on its own can be not so great if consumed in large amounts.

‘‘What’s the effect if it’s combined with guarana, are they working in synergy.’’

She said Food Standards Australia New Zealand set guidelines about caffeine intake, to which the drinks adhered and bottles also complied with labelling requirements that stated they were not for children, pregnant women or caffeine sensitive people.

‘‘I think we just need to be cautious,’’ she said.

John Hunter Hospital emergency department director Dr Mark Lee said they were seeing more people aged 18 and 25 who were intoxicated on alcoholic drinks mixed with the beverages.

He said the problem was the drinks kept people awake longer to drink more.

‘‘They’re also quite sweet and easy to mix to with strong alcohol,’’ he said.

‘‘It is a problem, exactly how much of a problem we are yet to see.’’

In October last year Kotara High principal Peter Sheargold joined the list of Hunter principals to warn parents about students buying and consuming energy drinks before school.

The school has banned the drinks because they impact students’ concentration.

The state government in December announced a study into the drinks’ impacts.

Coca-Cola said it did not market its products to children under 12 and its drinks contained all required on-pack warnings.

Red Bull said last year 4 billion cans were consumed worldwide and health authorities across the globe had concluded its drinks were safe.

It said a Canadian review found healthy adults were not at risk from caffeine if they limited their consumption to 400 milligrams each day.

on energy drinks available.

She found just 15 studies since 1973 that looked at the drinks as a whole, not just caffeine or guarana, and said the evidence was inconclusive.

‘‘There’s no long-term research, which is what’s needed,’’ she said.

‘‘Caffeine on its own can be not so great if consumed in large amounts.

Red Bull said last year 4billion of its cans were consumed worldwide and health authorities across the globe had concluded that its drinks were safe.

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