Are energy drinks safe for my teen?

Wellness RN

Jenn CorbettNovember 10, 2011 

Dear Wellness RN,

My son is a senior in high school and I have noticed that he is drinking an energy drink daily. Are energy drinks safe?

Energy drinks have become the go to beverage for many high school kids. With the bad rap soda has gotten kids have moved on to what they see as a better choice. The quick and easy answer is in extreme moderation energy drinks will not harm your son however, they are not helping him either. The energy effect in those drinks is achieved from two places -- high levels of caffeine and high levels of sugar. The diet drinks come with high levels of synthetic sugar (aspartame) which over time has been shown to have negative effects on your overall health as well.

There is a known dependency that comes from consuming high levels of caffeine and sugar. Your body will build up a tolerance and a need for these two ingredients. Once that has occurred you are left with the painful withdrawal symptoms associated with them.

Symptoms include headache, upset stomach, irritability, irregular heartbeat, anxiety and insomnia. Similar symptoms experienced by someone going through drug or alcohol withdrawals.

If your son is unwilling to completely do away with energy drinks then my advice is that these drinks need to be kept to no more than a few times a month. Unfortunately he most likely will experience withdrawal making this difficult to achieve. Help him discover a new beverage option that would help fill the void that the loss of the energy drink will leave.

I also suspect that he is turning to these drinks to help him stay awake. Many teenagers do not get the amount of sleep their bodies require at this point in their life. Teenagers require similar hours per day of sleep to that of a toddler (8-14 hours a day). Educate him on this as well as the addictive nature of what he is doing. Even in adolescence, knowledge gives them the power to make smart choices.

Dear Wellness RN,

I have been reading that Vitamin B12 can increase energy and boost your immune system. Is this true?

Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin that is naturally present in foods high in protein.

Vitamin B12 is bound with the protein in food and it is broken down by the acids in our stomach. Vitamin B12 is required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function and DNA synthesis. The recommended daily allowance for Vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg/day. B12 is found in foods such as salmon (4.9), beef (2.4), yogurt (1.4-1 cup), cheese (0.9-1oz) and eggs (0.6).

Individuals who eat protein regularly rarely suffer from B12 deficiency. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, "Vitamin B12 supplementation appears to have no beneficial effect on performance in the absence of a nutritional deficit. Individuals at risk for B12 deficiency are strict vegetarians and vegans, pernicious anemia patients and some elderly patients with poor nutritional intake."

The most efficient way to gather all the nutrients we need is through our diet. A well balanced diet provides an array of nutrients and other compounds that have known beneficial effects on health. In certain cases like those mentioned above, fortified foods and dietary supplements may be useful to achieve total health.

Jenn Corbett is a wife, mother and RN. She has worked in the medical field for nearly 20 years with a specialty in women's health and pediatrics as well as the study of nutrition and its effect on the body. Submit questions to Wellness RN, wellnessrn@sti.net or mail to P.O. Box 575, Oakhurst, Ca 93644. Details: rnforwellness.com

Jenn Corbett is a wife, mother and RN. She has worked in the medical field for nearly 20 years with a specialty in women’s health and pediatrics as well as the study of nutrition and its effect on the body. Submit questions to Wellness RN,

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