What are “energy drinks” and what do they contain?
“Energy drink” is a marketing term that has no regulatory definition. It includes beverages that are marketed as having energising properties on both the physical and intellectual levels. These products contain ingredients such as caffeine, taurine, D-glucuronolactone, sugar or sweeteners, vitamins and plant extracts (ginseng, guarana).
They should not be confused with “sports drinks”, which are specifically formulated to fulfil certain nutritional requirements when performing intense physical exercise.
To what degree are these drinks consumed in France?
According to the study conducted by the Agency in 2011, approximately 32% of consumers of so-called energy drinks in France consume them during festive occasions (in bars, discotheques, at concerts, etc.), 41% in conjunction with a sporting activity, and 16% in combination with alcohol.
The combined consumption of so-called energy drinks and alcohol can promote risk situations due to individuals over-estimating their capacities, which can then lead to continued consumption of alcohol and higher levels of risk taking.
Concerning sports activities, so-called energy drinks have no nutritional benefit during physical exercise (as opposed to sports drinks, also sometimes called energy drinks). They increase water and salt loss by the body and thus the risk of heat stroke.
Risk situations can occur when sources of caffeine — such as these so-called energy drinks — are multiplied, particularly in the light of current consumption patterns for these beverages.
Can these drinks have adverse effects?
In France, the monitoring of reports of adverse effects was initiated in 2008 through the nutrivigilance scheme managed by ANSES. In this context, over 200 cases of adverse effects associated with the consumption of these beverages have been reported.
The main symptoms observed are as follows:
- cardiovascular: tightness in the chest or chest pain, tachycardia, high blood pressure, heart rhythm disturbances with possible cardiac arrest, etc.;
- psycho-behavioural or neurological: irritability, nervousness, anxiety, panic attacks, hallucinations and epilepsy.
What is responsible for these adverse effects?
Following an analysis of the reported nutrivigilance cases and the literature data, the caffeine contained in these beverages was considered to be the main explanatory factor.
Caffeine is a compound that is found naturally in over 60 different plants (coffee, tea, kola nut, guarana, yerba mate, etc.). It is well known for its “stimulant” effects as well as for its numerous adverse effects, including anxiety, tachycardia, sleep disturbances, etc.
In the general population, sensitivity to the effects of caffeine varies widely from one individual to the next. A significant proportion of the French population exceeds the maximum caffeine levels above which adverse effects can occur.
While caffeine has been used throughout the ages and all over the world, its availability in the form of so-called energy drinks, which is a fast-growing phenomenon, has brought about changes in consumption habits.
How can you avoid the adverse effects of these drinks?
- Avoid consuming them before or during physical exercise,
- Do not combine them with alcohol,
- Avoid consuming energy drinks if you are sensitive to their effects; this applies to children, adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people with cardiovascular disorders, severe liver disease, a neurological or psychiatric disorder or kidney failure, for example.
Since when have these drinks been available on the market?
Despite several studies considering that the safety of using taurine and D-glucuronolactone in these drinks was not demonstrated, their marketing was authorised in France in 2008.
In 2009, based on new toxicological data, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that exposure to taurine and D-glucuronolactone at the levels currently used in “energy” drinks did not raise safety concerns.