Energy drinks could pose a risk to young brains, according to new research.
Those who consumed energy drinks — which are intended to boost energy through the use of caffeine or other stimulants — were shown to have a higher risk of mental health issues, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
These findings stem from a review by Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health at Teesside University and Newcastle University in the U.K.
In the review, published in the journal Public Health, researchers looked at data from 57 studies of over 1.2 million children and young people from more than 21 countries who consumed energy drinks.
The researchers conducted this review as a follow-up to an initial review in 2016.
“We have found an even greater list of mental and physical health outcomes associated with children and young people consuming energy drinks,” lead author Amelia Lake, professor of public health nutrition at Teesside University, told Fox News Digital.
“We repeated [the review] only to find an ever-growing evident space that suggests the consumption of these drinks is associated with negative health outcomes.”
The caffeine content of energy drinks ranges from 50 mg to 505 mg per serving, compared to 90 mg in 8.45 ounces of coffee, 50 mg in 8.45 ounces of tea and 34 mg in 16.9 ounces of soda, the researchers noted.
Based on the findings, the researchers and other U.K. health organizations are calling for the government to ban sales of energy drinks to children under age 16.
“This evidence suggests that energy drinks have no place in the diets of children and young people,” said Lake.
“Policymakers should follow the example from countries that have placed age restrictions on their sales to children.”
Erin Palinski-Wade, a New Jersey-based registered dietitian, was not involved in the new research but said its findings did not surprise her.
“Energy drinks are not a safe choice for children and no safe guidelines have been established for caffeine consumption in those under the age of 18,” she told Fox News Digital.
Caffeine has a half-life of six to eight hours, she noted — which means it takes that long for it to leave the system.
“Even small amounts of caffeine can impact quality and quantity of sleep, and poor sleep is directly correlated with a decline in both mental and physical health — in adults as well as children,” Palinski-Wade noted.
“A lack of quality sleep can lead to impaired cognitive functions such as decision-making, conflict resolution, working memory and learning, along with changes in behavior, mood and an increased risk of depression.”
Insufficient sleep can also negatively impact a child’s brain development, she added, which can lead to learning problems and more frequent negative emotions.
“A lack of sleep can also impact memory and concentration, making it harder to perform academically, especially if sleep is chronically interrupted,” the expert said.
Even in healthy adults, daily caffeine intake should not exceed 400 mg per day, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“With an average energy drink containing 200 mg of caffeine or more, it can be easy to exceed this intake, even as an adult,” said Palinski-Wade. “For children, these drinks are best avoided.”
Dr. Alex Dimitriu, a psychiatrist and sleep doctor who is also the founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in California, was not involved in the study but offered his expert input.
“The concern with any exogenous substance in children under the age of 21 is that the human brain is not done forming until people are about the age of 26,” Dimitriu told Fox News Digital.
“For this reason, substance use, including energy drinks, can markedly alter development, and certainly build patterns that resemble drug-seeking behavior as children look to external ‘fixes,’ for possible mood, focus or energy symptoms.”
The impact of energy drinks on sleep is particularly concerning, as the effect can be “bidirectional,” noted Dimitriu.
“Poor sleep may lead kids to use energy drinks, and energy drinks can lead to poor sleep,” he said.
“Because sleep is essential for brain development, anything that diminishes sleep quality can affect cognitive and emotional performance, both in the long and short term.”
Many people with undiagnosed ADHD also tend to gravitate toward stimulants, energy drinks and caffeine, Dimitriu pointed out — “so it is essential to also understand what the motivation is for children using these substances, and to treat underlying causes.”
“Lack of sleep is a huge cause of emotional and cognitive disturbance, for both adults and children in the U.S.,” he added.
The review did have some limitations, the researchers acknowledged.
Some of the included studies were lacking in quality and design, while others did not clearly define the ages of the participants. They also do not prove that energy drinks cause the observed health issues, the journal entry stated.
“We accept the evidence is from mostly cross-sectional studies, exploring association rather than causation,” Lake told Fox News Digital.
“Experimental studies to establish causation have both ethical and feasibility issues.”
In response to the study, a spokesperson from the American Beverage Association (ABA) provided a statement to Fox News Digital.
“Energy drinks have been enjoyed by billions of people around the world for more than 30 years and are recognized by government food safety agencies worldwide, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority, as safe for consumption,” the group said.
“It’s important to note that neither study found that energy drinks cause sleep problems or any health issues — and that the authors acknowledge there may be other reasons for their findings.”
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