Can energy drinks provide relief from ADHD symptoms?

June 14, 2010 by Dr.Yannick Pauli

Many parents on the lookout for an alternative to Ritalin have resorted to buying one of the many high-powered energy drinks often marketed to young consumers. While children with ADHD need a little help channeling their pent-up energy into productive energy, an energy drink may not be the best way to go about it.

Energy drinks are a very attractive alternative because of the health claims they make.  Look at advertisements of any health drink and you’ll see someone living a macho, active lifestyle.  Many of these drinks promise an energy kick with added benefits to your health, thanks to ginseng, taurine, and green tea extracts. Some companies even claim that their drinks contain as much as a daily serving of vitamins in a single bottle.

The truth is that most of the energy from these drinks comes from sugar and caffeine, not from the added extras.  In fact, these drinks are so calorie-laden from the sugar that they quickly add up after several bottles.    To make things worse, the amount of stimulants in the drink are not properly labeled, and even if the ingredients are listed it is hard for the average consumer to tell how much of these ingredients are present. There may be barely enough green tea or taurine to make even the slightest dent on your health.   Additionally, caffeine dehydrates the body, and it’s easy to rehydrate with yet another can. They’re sweet and cold, and who wouldn’t want one in the middle of a long workout or during a hot day?

One concern health experts have is how easy it is to drink bottles and bottles of energy drinks.  This can be dangerous because energy drinks contain more than one stimulant, which could be dangerous to the body when taken in large quantities.  Anyone who takes a swig out of an energy drink will experience a burst of energy, but once it wears out it could lead to poor concentration, hyperactive behavior, agitation, insomnia, or high blood pressure.  Other side effects of energy drinks include heart palpitations, leg weakness, jitteriness, and upset stomach.

That’s not the worst part. Energy drinks also contain high amounts of artificial additives, which are notorious for causing ADHD. One such additive is the chemical benzene, a carcinogen linked to leukemia, immune system disorders, and nervous system disorders.  It is present in many commercially-manufactured drinks, including soft drinks, fruit juice, and energy drinks under the ingredient “benzoate salts” or the preservative “sodium benzoate.” Recent studies showed that children who drink fruit juice and soft drinks with sodium benzoate experience aggravated hyperactivity.

Finally, a study by the University of Buffalo discovered that energy drinks increase the likelihood of risky behavior in teenagers.  Although the drinks themselves do not cause the behavior, the teens who do consume them are more likely to risk their health and safety without considering the consequences. This is very dangerous for someone who already has ADHD; the nature of the disorder already makes them more likely to engage in activities like substance abuse, violence, and unprotected sex.

Although energy drinks may not cause a significant impact on health if consumed occasionally, these findings show that it should not be considered as a long-term treatment for ADHD.