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The Informed Parent

A Dinnertime Topic For Discussion: Do You Know What Is Actually In Those Energy Drinks?

by Lori A. Livingston, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jun. 09, 2008

Monster, Rockstar, Full Throttle, NoFear, Red Bull…these popular energy drinks and more than 100 others are marketed to your teenager and are not necessarily “all natural.”

Young people often drink them to stay up for an all night cramming session for an exam, to improve performance in a sport, or to stay out late partying. A dangerous trend is to mix an “energy drink” with alcohol, which allows your teen to stay awake longer and drink more alcohol…with potentially disastrous consequences.

So what are the ingredients in an energy drink, and what risk is associated with drinking them regularly?


As the most frequently used ”drug” in the world, most people know caffeine is a stimulant. In small amounts it may increase alertness and concentration. However, some people are more sensitive to its effects. In larger quantities, as in energy drinks, it may cause insomnia, headache, anxiety, rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, irritability, nausea, chest or abdominal pain, and nervousness. With regular use, withdrawal symptoms are common, including headache, fatigue, anxiety, and irritability. Caffeine is also a diuretic, which increases urine fluid loss and dehydration. This effect, when combined with sweating during exercise or in hot weather, can lead to severe dehydration and heat stroke.


A plant that grows in Brazil and Venezuela associated with weight loss, pain relief, and memory enhancement. It also contains caffeine! It’s side effects are the same as those listed for caffeine above and are often more prolonged.


Derived from an Asian plant and used as an herbal remedy for thousands of years for stress, recovery from illness, and improving mental and physical performance. Despite its potential benefits, at dosages in some energy drinks it can cause stomach upset, high blood pressure, insomnia, headaches, breast tenderness, vaginal bleeding, and disturbances in the electrical activity of the heart…a potentially very dangerous “natural” supplement.


An amino acid made in the human body and obtained in our diet, it is used as an antioxidant and a potential treatment for high blood pressure and migraine headaches. Studies have shown no support for these claims, and side effects are unknown.


A protein made in the human body for energy production in muscle. There has been no evidence to suggest it actually improves exercise performance and supplements do not increase carnitine in the muscle. There is also no evidence of serious side effects.

BOTTOM LINE: These drinks are not recommended for children, pregnant women or people sensitive to caffeine. Increased energy is best achieved with a balanced, healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep. Teenagers should know that energy drinks, especially consumed in large amounts or with alcohol, can lead to serious and even deadly consequences. 

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