Special Report: Energy Drink Dangers - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Special Report: Energy Drink Dangers

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

It's a nearly $20-billion dollar industry that's growing more each year. Energy drinks target the most vulnerable citizens--teens and young adults.

They may even be to blame for a Maryland teenagers death after parents believe he got sick from one.

The 13-year old was struck and killed when he stuck his head out of his car to vomit.

In a recent study by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), researchers found 34% of people 18-24 claimed to be regular energy drink users.  Half of the college students they surveyed say they drink at least one a month to increase their energy level.

There are some like 18-year old Dawson Morris.

"You don't need to drink these."

And others like Trey Noble and Natalie Joiner.

"There's been actually one day where I drank 7-8," says Noble.

"I started drinking them pretty much every day," says Joiner.

With differing opinions, what's the real story behind the drinks' energy boosting claims?

Do they work?

Are they healthy?

The IFT study found energy drinks were originally marketed in the 90's to athletes.

But as the industry expanded, they were quickly targeted at people between 18 and 34 because of the age group's on-the-go lifestyle.

"[I] drink it like most folks drink water," says Noble.

Many experts say, in moderation, energy drinks aren't harmful for adults.

Ali Pritchett is a dietician at the Bell Road YMCA in Montgomery and admits that doesn't make them good, either.

And for children, they're even worse.

"The caffeine is just very stimulating for the heart and that can lead to heart attack, stroke," says Pritchett.

It's not necessarily the ingredients that concern her, it's the amount of them in each serving.

"Anything in excessive amounts is not a good thing," she says.

In a 5-Hour Energy, for instance, one serving has more than 8,000 times the daily recommended amount of Vitamin B12 for adults, and 2,000 times Vitamin B6.

In a child, the number is higher.

Pritchett says over time, B6 "can cause nerve damage."

Also, caffeine levels in some drink brands are double those in a can of soda.

And when people have also had coffee or caffeinated soft drinks?

"[It] can lead to excessive nervousness, even problems with the nervous system, can over stimulate the heart," says Pediatrician Den Trumbull.

Trumbull doesn't see any benefit to energy drinks.

"I was hoping it wouldn't get in the hands of children," says Trumbull.

He believes kids shouldn't need what he calls an "unnatural stimulant."

"If they're that run down and low, it's probably because they're not getting enough sleep."

18-year old Dawson Morris measured his heart rate and blood pressure before and after drinking a Monster energy drink--just to see how the beverage would affect him. 

"I've had a few 5-Hour Energies and a Red Bull, but that's about it."

As Dawson gets ready to drink the 16 ounce Monster, his blood pressure reads 140 over 70.

After gulping the drink, he immediately notices a change.

"Jitters, a little bit...more energy."

15 minutes later, his blood pressure has jumped to 152 over 78.

After 30 minutes, it's slightly down at 149 over 75.

Dawson's nurse believes the increase is definitely a result of the drink.

"It's staying elevated," she says.

"It was more than I thought," added Morris.

Natalie Joiner admits the energy boosts have worn off since she started drinking Monster regularly.

"You kind-of get the little heart-race at first, but not now."

Healthcare professionals warn about tolerance since it makes side effects harder to detect.

They have one piece of advice for parents.

"My suggestion is to not buy them at all," says Trumbull.

"Try to help the kids get more sleep. Make sure they're eating right. Make sure they're hydrated," adds Prichett.

Even energy drink companies seem to know too much of the beverages may cause health problems. That's why most of them have a disclaimer on the can suggesting consumers shouldn't drink more than 2 per day.

Copyright 2012 WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved.

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