Your Health

Caffeinated beverages

The popularity and increased use of energy drinks among youth in Nova Scotia is a growing concern for physicians. We’ve discussed the dangers of energy drinks many times, and will continue to have the discussion until we see positive change.

When you need a boost of energy, you have many options. Unfortunately, many youth in Nova Scotia are making the wrong choice.

A common misperception

Most youth (and adults) consume energy drinks for the burst of energy they offer. But there are better, healthier and more effective ways to increase energy – without putting your health at risk.

In the 2012 Nova Scotia Student Drug Use Survey, nearly half of Nova Scotia Grade 7 students reported they had consumed energy drinks in the 12 months prior to the survey. This increases to 71 per cent of students by Grade 12.

According to the survey, youth in Nova Scotia report consuming energy drinks to increase stimulation, attention and memory, decrease mental fatigue and improve performance on some physical activities. Unfortunately, the health risks associated with consuming these drinks far outweighs the potential burst of energy they offer.

The truth behind energy drinks

Doctors know that highly caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks present significant health risks to children and youth. Even though product labels say the drinks shouldn’t be consumed by individuals under 18 years of age, youth can still be drawn to the products by flashy advertising and product placement.

Consuming too much caffeine can result in nausea, vomiting, heart irregularities and/or anxiety.

Energy drinks have been reported in association with serious adverse effects, especially in children, adolescents and young adults with seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, or mood and behaviour disorders, and in youth who take certain medications.

Even a small amount of caffeine can cause sleeping problems, headaches, irritability and nervousness.

According to Health Canada’s Expert Panel on Caffeinated Energy Drinks, energy drinks can have a negative impact on your health because of their high caffeine and sugar content. These ingredients lead to energy crashes, cavities and even dependency.

Health Canada also warns that energy drinks can cause other possible side-effects in children and youth, such as:
  • Increased heart rate
  • Cold sweats
  • Shakes/jitteriness
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased urine output
  • Nervousness
  • Nausea
Consumption of highly caffeinated energy drinks in youth may also be linked to depression and substance abuse.

Alcohol and energy drinks don't mix

Even with warning labels in place, we know that 25 per cent of Nova Scotia’s high school–aged youth are mixing energy drinks with alcohol. The consumption of caffeinated alcohol is a significant issue in Nova Scotia, with a direct link between the consumption of caffeinated alcohol and increased injury levels.

With the combined effects of a stimulant found in caffeine and a depressant found in alcohol, the subjective feeling of alcohol intoxication is diminished without reducing actual alcohol-related impairment. This leads to increased consumption of alcohol and a “wide-awake” drunk.

The increased perceived sobriety results in individuals drinking more, leading to more binge-drinking behaviour.

One report found “bar patrons who consumed alcohol mixed with energy drinks were also four times more likely to intend to drive upon leaving the bar.” Further research confirms that those who combine alcohol and energy drinks are more likely to:
  • Be injured/physically hurt
  • Require medical treatment
  • Ride with an intoxicated driver
  • Increase their potential for alcohol poisoning
  • Be victims or perpetrators of aggressive sexual behaviour
  • Be involved in violent offending and victimization

How much is too much? 

The levels of caffeine found within some energy drinks contain the equivalent of 14 cans of Coca-Cola. This translates to up to 360 milligrams per serving.

Health Canada currently recommends the maximum daily caffeine intake for kids under 12 is 2.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

That means a youth who weighs 54 kilograms (about 120 pounds) should consume no more than 136 milligrams of caffeine daily. Many energy drinks contain 360 milligrams of caffeine, more than twice the recommended daily intake.

Make the right choice

Rethink your drink: Choose water and a healthy diet to give you the energy you need.

The vitamins and minerals found in healthy foods give your body what it needs to promote good energy and health.

Learn what Doctors Nova Scotia is doing to prevent children and youth from consuming caffeinated energy drinks.


Katie Mallam

Senior policy advisor