New report shows emergency department visits involving energy drinks have doubled

5 Apr 2013 | Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released a report in January highlighting a spike in U.S. emergency department visits involving energy drinks.

The findings, published in THE DAWN REPORT: Update on Emergency Department Visits Involving Energy Drinks: A Continuing Public Health Concern, show visits doubled from 10,068 visits in 2007, to 20,783 in 2011. The majority of emergency department visits were the result of adverse reactions, misuse or abuse. Adverse reactions included insomnia, nervousness, headache, fast heartbeat and seizures that were severe enough to require emergency care. While the use of other drugs played a part in some visits, the majority, 58 percent, involved energy drinks only.

The average Marine falls into the age range of energy drink companies’ target demographic. Installation shoppettes throughout the military sell a wide variety of energy drinks and most forward operating base mess halls in Afghanistan have cases of energy drinks readily available.

Should the findings in the report be a concern for the Marine Corps?

As long as Marines practice moderation and educate themselves, a trip to the emergency room shouldn’t be a worry.

“Energy drinks consumed in moderation can be safe for adults; however, caution should be warranted,” Lauren King, a Semper Fit health promotion dietitian from Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., said. “People vary in their sensitivity to caffeine, and the general recommendation is that consuming 300 milligrams per day is considered a safe dose of caffeine for adults.”

Energy drinks and shots use caffeine to stimulate the body, but the drinks aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and the amount of caffeine in a drink can vary from 80 to more than 500 milligrams of caffeine while the average 5 ounce cup of coffee has about 100 milligrams. But unlike coffee and tea, some energy drinks include additives that may compound the stimulant effects of caffeine.

“Some energy drinks can have about the same amount of caffeine per serving as one cup of coffee, but most containers have two to three servings,” King said. “One energy drink can contain about 240 milligrams of caffeine. Watch out for the amount of servings per beverage container.”

According to King, who has a Masters of Science degree and is a board-certified sports dietitian, too much caffeine can result in nervousness and anxiety, irritability, inability to sleep, stomach upset, heart palpitations, dizziness, bone loss and increased blood pressure.

In addition to varying levels of caffeine, many energy drinks pack a lot of sugar and lack nutritional value.

“Energy drinks are much like soda,” King said. “They contain little to no nutritional value. Do not be fooled by added herbal ingredients that many energy drinks contain such as guarana or ginseng that are marketed as ‘healthy.’ Evidence of their health benefits is limited at this time.”

King has a few tips for Marines to consider before grabbing an energy drink as a pick-me-up. Marines should take a look at their lifestyle habits — they have a profound effect on energy levels. She said Marines should:

1. Eat well. If you are eating a healthy and balanced diet, you probably won’t need an energy boost.

2. Get plenty of sleep. Most adults need seven to eight hours per night to feel more alert and concentrate better.

3. Drink water to stay hydrated; dehydration causes tiredness.

4. Move more, getting regular exercise helps you stay alert.

5. If needed, drink unsweetened or lightly sweetened coffee or tea in moderation (2-3 cups/day).

If used in moderation, energy drinks shouldn’t cause Marines problems, but King thinks there are better options out there.

“Energy drinks are mainly marketing devices to generate money,” King said. “A cup or two of coffee or tea per day can be just as effective, safer and a lot less expensive.”

Headquarters Marine Corps