Excessive consumption of energy drinks has been linked to serious mental health problems

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New research at Flinders University in Australia, published in the international journal PLOS One, put a form of cognitive incentive retraining – a form of computer-based training aimed at reducing decision-making biases in purchasing energy drinks – to the test on more than 200 regular consumers of energy drinks aged between 18 and 25.

With the powerful marketing by brands such as Red Bull, V, Mother and Monster, the Australian Research Council-funded research is focusing on finding ways to reduce or combat the rising levels of energy and soft drink consumption.

The training aimed to reduce energy drink consumption by either reducing the extent to which energy drink cans capture the attention of regular energy drink consumers (attentional bias) or reducing the tendency for these consumers to approach energy drinks (approach bias).

“We are keen to expand these trial methods on consumers to combat through their attentional and approach bias towards energy drinks,” says Mind, Body and Cognition research leader Professor of Psychology Eva Kemps.

“By giving participants some simple techniques, we examined whether they were prepared to moderate their bias toward choosing energy drinks over soft drinks and more healthy options, and perhaps reduce consumption before they become addicted.”

While an occasional energy drink is not problematic, it has been reported that some individuals consume four or more energy drinks a day. Excessive intake can lead to the development of intolerance and serious withdrawal symptoms upon cessation.

Energy drink consumption is rising, with one estimate of it doubling in the past 10-15 years to more than 11.5 billion liters a year globally, with a majority of consumers young adults.

Side-effects of excessive intake of the high caffeine drinks, with other stimulants taurine, guarana and ginseng, can lead to a range of negative physical and mental health consequences, including anxiety, depression, or even stress PTSD and substance abuse.

Reported adverse effects range in severity from headaches to heart palpitations, renal failure, seizures, and in rare cases death.

Side-effects of excessive intake of the high caffeine drinks, with other stimulants taurine, guarana and ginseng, can lead to a range of negative physical and mental health consequences, including anxiety, depression, or even stress PTSD and substance abuse.

The 226 volunteers in the study – many of them university students – said they consumed 1 or more cans a fortnight, for an energy boost, to relieve fatigue, improve sporting or academic performance, or as a party mixer with alcohol.

The training aimed to reduce energy drink consumption by tackling either the extent to which the products capture the attention of regular energy drink consumers (attentional bias) or the tendency for these consumers to approach energy drinks (approach bias).

Attentional and approach biases have been demonstrated for a range of appetitive substances, including alcohol, tobacco, drugs and chocolate.

The research is part of an ARC Discovery Project (2018-21) looking at the role of automatic processing in the (over)consumption of soft drinks, and follows previous attentional retraining research to reduce food cravings and promote healthier eating and weight loss.


Energy drinks (ED) are nonalcoholic beverages that contain, amongst other ingredients, the stimulant, caffeine, and the neuroinhibitory amino acid, taurine.

They are widely consumed in the general population for their purported enhancing effects on cognition and physical performance, and their use is increasing.

In 2011, a study commissioned by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) estimated the consumption of energy drinks within the EU at 30% of adults and 68% of adolescents. Global sales in 2012 were estimated to total roughly $12 billion [1].

Caffeine (1,3,7-trimethylxanthine) has been consumed for millennia and is the most used psychotropic substance in the world. Caffeine is found in a wide variety of foods and beverages, and the EFSA state that a “standard” 250 ml energy drink (referenced as the most popular brand) contains a caffeine concentration of 0.32mg/ml [2].

In reality, ED vary in caffeine content, dependent on concentration and volume [3]. Furthermore, ED typically contain numerous additives such as D-glucurono-γ-lactone, taurine, guarana, and ginseng.

A recent narrative review of ED consumption commissioned by the World Health Organisation highlighted numerous caffeine-associated risks and adverse health outcomes, as well as the need for further research into the long-term effects of ED consumption on global health [4].

Caffeine is thought to exert its stimulant effects through antagonism of adenosine 2A receptors which in turn may result in increased central nervous system dopaminergic activity [5].

The association between caffeine and mental disorder is well documented. Psychiatric symptomatology caused by excessive caffeine consumption may range from anxiety and dysphoria [67] to mania and psychosis [811].

Moderate caffeine intake may have beneficial effects on attention, memory encoding, and mood [12], though its abuse has been reported in differing patient groups. One recent systematic review identified caffeine as the second most abused substance after tobacco in those with eating disorders [13], and cases of athletes abusing caffeine for its performance-sustaining effects have also been reported [14].

Amongst body builders in particular, caffeine abuse may be additionally associated with the presence of body dysmorphic disorder [14]. It has also been proposed that consumption of high doses of caffeine may be used to self-medicate depression [15].


Source:
Flinders University

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