The Safety of Energy Drink
- In recent years, there have been cases of cardiac dysrhythmia, seizures, kidney failure, and fatalities with a possible link to the consumption of energy drinks reported in different countries. These incidents usually involved improper intake of energy drinks, such as drinking them with alcohol or in greater quantities than recommended. For example, in 2011, a teenage girl from the US died after consuming nearly 1.5 Litres of energy drink, “Monster Energy”. In 2008, a man from the UK with underlying heart condition died after consuming large amount of energy drink, Red Bull. In 2001 a woman in Sweden drank Red Bull and vodka in a party, who suddenly collapsed while dancing and eventually died.
- Energy drinks are meant to “mobilize energy” by stimulating the nervous system. They are non-alcoholic beverages characterized by the addition of a number of energy enhancing ingredients such as caffeine, a selection of B vitamins, and other substances such as taurine (a kind of amino acid) and glucuronolactone (a carbohydrate). Energy drinks, may contain an energy source (e.g. carbohydrates) or be sugar free. Energy drinks should not be confused with sport drinks which re-hydrate the body and provide sugar and minerals, such as sodium and potassium.
- Energy drinks mixed with vodka or beers have become popular at bars and clubs and consuming these drinks is a trend among young people in various countries. Some people also consume energy drinks to keep up their energy during periods of intense physical activities or drink them after exercise to quench their thirst. But rather than rehydrating their bodies, these drinks may actually lead to dehydration.
Safety and Public Health Significance
- The caffeine content in a can of energy drink is about the same as a cup of coffee. Other ingredients in energy drink such as taurine and glucuronolactone are either found in natural food or can be produced by our bodies. Except for caffeine that may cause adverse effects such as nervousness or anxiety in children or people who are sensitive to caffeine, no evidence showed that any other ingredients in energy drinks can cause serious health effects.
- However, the European Union Scientific Committee on Food considered that the adverse effects caused by energy drinks may be due to the interactions between constituents in energy drinks and with alcohol and exercise. The potential for interactions between constituents in energy drinks and with alcohol and exercise were seen on central nervous system ( reduced the consumer’s awareness of alcohol intoxification), kidney (increased water and sodium loss from the body in the short-term), and cardiovascular system (altered the heart rate and blood pressure in the short-term). These effects could pose health risk to consumers.
- The sale of energy drinks is legal in Hong Kong and in many countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and some European countries.
- There are currently no Codex standards for energy drinks. In Hong Kong, there is no specific legislation governing the standard of energy drinks. In Australia, formulated caffeinated beverages (energy drinks) must contain no less than 145 mg/L and no more than 320 mg/L of caffeine.
Advice to the Public
- Energy drinks are unsuitable for children, pregnant women and individuals sensitive to caffeine.
- It is not recommended to consume energy drinks along with other substances having an effect on the central nervous system (alcohol or medication with an effect on the central nervous system).
- Do not drink excessive amounts of energy drinks. For example, to follow label instructions such as manufacturer’s suggested intake level, if available.
- Energy drinks are not suitable as thirst quenchers, or as rehydrants during physical exercise. If you engage in intense physical activity or exercise, drink enough water to help re-hydrate your system.
Advice to the Trade
- Trade members should ensure that their energy drinks comply with local legislation and are fit for human consumption.
- Energy drinks should be labelled with an indication that they are not recommended for children, pregnant women and individuals sensitive to caffeine.
- Energy drinks should not carry misleading claims such as suggesting that they can reduce the requirement for sleep or can be consumed in association with sport as a thirst quencher.
Risk Assessment Section
Centre for Food Safety