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Energy Drinks Can Be Deadly for Young Children: Study

Thousands of kids have faced serious — and potentially deadly — side effects after consuming energy drinks, new research shows.
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Thousands of kids have faced serious — and potentially deadly — side effects after consuming energy drinks, new research shows.

More than 5,000 cases of people who got sick from energy drinks were reported to U.S. poison control centers between 2010 and 2013, and almost half of those cases were in children did not realize what they were drinking, according to research that will be presented Monday (Nov. 17) at a meeting of the American Heart Association.

Many of these cases involved serious side effects, such as seizures, irregular heart rhythms or dangerously high blood pressure, the researchers found. And it was children under age 6 who often consumed the beverages without knowing what they were drinking.

"They didn't go to a store and buy it; they found it in the refrigerator, or left by a parent or an older sibling," said study co-author Dr. Steven Lipshultz, the pediatrician in chief at the Children's Hospital of Michigan.

Energy drinks typically contain high levels of sugar and at least as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. But the drinks also often tout the energy-boosting effects of a mix of other ingredients, ranging from taurine and l-carnitine, naturally occurring amino acids, to ginseng (a Chinese herb typically used in alternative medicine). But despite this "special blend" of ingredients, studies suggest energy drinks don't boost attention any better than a cup of coffee does.

In 2007, Lipshultz began noticing that children and adults who had consumed energy drinks were coming into the emergency room sick. He began to wonder if a troubling new trend was occurring. So he and his colleagues began tracking data from poison control centers around the world.

In 2011, he and his colleagues reported that cases of illness associated with energy-drink consumption had skyrocketed, with side effects such as heart problems, liver damage, seizures and even death. In a separate study, the U.S. government found that emergency-room visits related to energy-drink consumption grew exponentially between 2005 and 2011, Lipshultz said.

Now, to see whether the trend has changed more recently, Lipshultz and his colleagues analyzed case reports from all U.S. poison control centers between October 2010 and September 2013.

They found that 5,156 cases had been reported to the centers, with about 40 percent involving kids younger than age 6.

"You can't really dissect out what is the effect of ginseng, what is the effect of taurine, what is the effect of guarana, what is the effect of caffeine," Lipshultz said.

Children and adults with underlying risk factors (such as a seizure disorder, arrhythmia or a predisposition to high blood pressure), as well as caregivers of those children, should also know the risks and be advised not to consume energy drinks, Lipshultz said.


— Tia Ghose, Live Science

This is a condensed version of a report from Live Science. Read the full report. Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.