High-caffeine energy drinks are popular among young adults and teens. Some 51 percent of college students consume them regularly. Energy drinks are the fastest-growing beverage in the United States, with billions of dollars in sales each year. Part of their growing popularity may be attributed to “energy shots” sold at convenience stores. As consumption remains high, concern about side effects, including possible liver damage, is rising.
The top ingredient of concern in energy drinks is caffeine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration limits the amount of caffeine that soft drinks can contain to 71 milligrams per 12-ounce serving. The FDA, however, does not regulate the caffeine in energy drinks, which are classified as dietary supplements. Energy drinks commonly have three times as much caffeine as cola, and some varieties have five times as much. Some energy drinks contain even more caffeine than listed on the label. Manufacturers are not required to list caffeine content from additives such as kola nut, yerba mate, guarana or cocoa, according to a 2011 study published in “Pediatrics.”
You may get the caffeine in energy drinks into your system more quickly than you do with coffee or tea because you typically would not gulp these beverages like you do energy drinks or shots, notes Barbara Crouch of Utah's poison control center in the USA Today article, “Energy Drink Sales Rise Along with Concerns,” published March 17, 2011.
Consuming energy drinks and certain medicines at the same time can increase your risk for liver damage due to the drinks’ caffeine content. For example, ingesting caffeine with certain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as etodolac or acetaminophen, increases your risk for liver damage. If your energy drink contains yerba mate specifically, it can cause or increase liver damage when taken with a host of medications including abacavir, acarbose, acetaminophen, celecoxib, meloxicam, naproxen, pacliaxel, refecoxib, tamoxifen and zidovudine, according to “The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide,” by George T. Grossberg and Barry Fox.
If you already have a liver ailment, the caffeine in energy drinks may worsen your condition, according to Sara M. Seifert, lead author for the “Pediatrics” study. Other ingredients commonly found in energy drinks, such as niacin and coenzyme Q10, also can trigger or worsen liver damage when taken in large amounts.
Germany has tracked toxicity related to energy drinks since 2002. Liver damage is among the outcomes it reports, along with kidney failure, heart failure, hypertension, respiratory disorders, agitation, psychotic conditions, seizures, cardiac dysrhythmias and death. The United States created a code to track toxicity related to energy drinks at its Poison Control Centers in 2010.
- “Pediatrics”: Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults; Sara M. Seifert et al.; 2011
- “Personal Nutrition”; Marie A. Boyle and Sara Long; 2008
- Los Angeles Times: Energy Drinks Potentially Dangerous for Kids, Study Reports; Eryn Brown; February 2011
- USA Today: Energy Drink Sales Rise Along With Concerns; Jayne O'Donnell and Elizabeth Weise; March 2011
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.