Energy shots & Adolescents

There has been a lot of publicity of late about the effects of energy drinks, particularly the new ‘energy shots’. 

The Australia/NZ Food Standard code states that beverages can only contain the equivalent of 320mg per litre. Demon Energy shots contain 200mg for its 60ml serve which is the equivalent of 3333mg per litre.  A cup of ground coffee can have anywhere from between 88-190mg of caffeine in it and these energy shots contain as much caffeine as up to 2 cups of coffee.  

There have been reports of young children and teenagers having adverse effects from these energy shots. A seven year old boy in Auckland reported feeling very ill after consumption. What is it about these energy shots that make them so bad for young people considering they’re only the same as 2 cups of coffee?  

With the exception of those who have disorders affecting caffeine metabolism, the effect that caffeine has on our body is largely dependent on our body weight with caffeine concentration quoted as mg/kg of body weight.   In consuming one cup of coffee at approx 100mg of caffeine, a 100kg adult will have a 1mg/kg caffeine concentration and a 50kg adult will have 2mg/kg concentration. The average seven year old weighs approx 25kg and will have a concentration of 4mg/kg.  

Let’s look at this ratio in another way. A 25kg boy ingesting 200ml of caffeine from an energy shot is consuming 8mg/kg. For me as a 70kg adult to achieve the same ratio I would have to consume 560mg of caffeine, which is the equivalent of about 6-7 cups of coffee. Now, consider this, can I drink my 8mg/kg of caffeine in the same amount of time that a seven year old can down his 8mg/kg in an energy shot?  

Quite remarkably children are able to process and clear caffeine at the same pace as adults, but if the concentration per bodyweight is higher, then the higher saturation will lead to an overall longer time being processed by the liver, and the effects on the nervous system will be the same as an adult, but far more intense. It is not surprising this seven year old boy felt ill.  

Caffeine consumption in excess of 150-200mg/kg of body weight is likely to result in death and there have been reported cases of lower levels than this (5000mg all up) Based on this, the average 25kg seven year olds lethal caffeine dose would be somewhere between 3750mg – 5000mg, (or 19 – 25 energy shots). It is somewhat unlikely that a seven year old will consume 19 energy shots in a day, however one should always err on the side of caution, because as we know, kids are curious wee things and if peer pressured it is completely plausible for someone to consume 19 energy shots, if they can get over feeling ill through caffeine intoxication first.

But remember, these are shots ok, so if a kid decides to challenge his mate to a shot drinking competition, they're going to be downing these as quick as possible, by the time caffeine intoxication starts to show up, it's too bloody late, they're drinking them too fast...so make it fast trip to A&E. 

Caffeine intoxication (mild or otherwise) occurs in doses in excess of 300mg, dependent on bodyweight, tolerance, concentration and caffeine clearance. In the case of caffeine intoxication, the central nervous system (CNS) is over stimulated causing, amongst other things, irritability, insomnia, anxiety and headaches. Excess caffeine is a diuretic and can result in dehydration. Rapid heartbeat is a side effect as is muscular trembling, twitching and seizures. ‘ In excess of 300mg’ on a 50kg person could be considered the same as ‘in excess of 150mg’ on a 25kg seven year old, and it doesn’t surprise me that this Auckland adolescent felt ill after consuming 200mg of caffeine in an energy shot. Even an adult drinking 3 cups of coffee in a row can experience the effects of caffeine intoxication.

Take care with children around these products. Ensure they understand that the amount of caffeine is an ‘adult’ size and encourage them towards other beverages or if they must... just have half of the energy shot. It is also a good idea to find out why your child needs a rush of energy like this and what other diet and lifestyle changes might help their energy levels.