ABU DHABI // Energy drinks should carry a prominent health label warning of the dangerous consequences of consuming too much caffeine, experts have advised.
The caffeine content in energy drinks can vary between 50 milligrams to more than 500 milligrams – double the recommended daily maximum of 200 to 300 milligrams, said Dr Asif Ali, whose expertise is in cardiovascular medicine.
Excess caffeine consumption can lead to panic attacks, vomiting, heart attacks, and in some cases, death.
Yet the caffeine amounts are often unlabelled and few include health risks of caffeine intoxication, said Dr Ali, speaking on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi Medical Congress at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre on Monday.
“A warning label is on over-the-counter medications, yet many of those have lower caffeine content than in the average energy beverage,” he said. “Sometimes energy beverages have three times the dose.
“There is a discrepancy that needs addressing. Bottom line.”
Dr Ali, of the Texas Medical Centre, in Houston, Texas, said drink manufacturers should display how much caffeine their energy drinks contain, the recommended maximum daily caffeine consumption and a health warning stating the perils of drinking too much caffeine.
“There needs to be an industry standard that is consistent with over-the-counter pills that have caffeine with energy drinks that often contain caffeine many times over,” he said.
Dr Ali was speaking after leading a session entitled, “Perils Involved When Abusing Energy Drinks”, at the second Middle East Sports Medicine Conference at the congress.
“Drinking energy drinks can affect how the blood flows in your body,” he said. “Everyone has seen in the news that there are reported deaths of young individuals who had consumed an energy drink.
“The manufacturing of energy drinks is a growing industry and it is worrying because it is an unregulated industry as opposed to buying over-the-counter medications that we take that requires labelling.”
Over-consumption of caffeinated energy drinks is a problem worldwide, he said.
Dr Ali said energy drinks was especially worrying in the sporting industry.
“If we look at the sporting industry we know that caffeine improves a workout. Now this compounds the issue.
“There are now products coming out that are energy bars, energy gels, energy food.
“So now you have your energy beverage, with your energy bar, with your energy gel and your energy snack.”
Dr Ali said there is no doubt that people are dying from consuming too much caffeine as found in energy drinks.
“And here is the problem – we do not know at what rate,” he said. “There is no data collection.”
More data and research on the matter is needed to show how bad the problem is, he said.
Dr Krill Micvallef, a sports medicine consultant and vice president of the European Federation of Sports Medicine in Abu Dhabi, agreed that there should be a universal health warning on energy drinks.
“Labelling should definitely be introduced,” he said. “We know that here, people can drink four or five [energy drinks] in a social setting.
“Any label that informs more would be beneficial.”
Energy drinks are a particular problem among the younger generation who consume caffeinated drinks as part of their daily routine, said Dr Micvallef.
“There is a totally different lifestyle here,” he said. “They live in the night. To keep them going they need something – especially drinks that contain caffeine like energy drinks. We need to help them and educate them.”
Nikolas Tzouroudis, a chief medical officer at Al Ain Football Club, agreed there was a culture in the UAE of consuming too many caffeinated energy drinks.
“If you open an Emirati’s car you will see four or five cans of energy drinks there. It has become part of their culture.”
He said while there needed to be a long-term awareness scheme to educate youngsters about the perils of consuming too many energy drinks, a short-term solution was also needed.
Labelling energy drinks could be a short-term solution, he said.
Earlier this year, the substance abuse and mental health services administration in the US called energy drinks “a continuing public health concern” after the number of cases related to them at emergency departments increased about tenfold between 2005 and 2011.
The Abu Dhabi Medical Congress ends on Tuesday.