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The health effects of stimulant drinks

Author(s): Finnegan D


Stimulant drinks belong to a class of food, known as functional foods and at present there is no legislation relating specifically to the consumption or labelling of stimulant drinks in Ireland or the UK. Following the death of a young male student in Ireland in November 1999, much controversy has surrounded stimulant drinks, prompting concern among the public about the safety of these drinks. At the request of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, safefood, the Food Safety Promotion Board, established a Stimulant Drinks Committee to commission independent scientific research into the health effects of stimulant drinks. This committee published a report in March 2002.

Stimulant drinks often contain ingredients such as caffeine, gaurana, taurine and glucuronolactone. Caffeine is a pharmacologically active substance and despite extensive research, its effects and health consequences are the subject of ongoing debate. Guarana has similar stimulatory effects to caffeine. Little is known about the health effects of taurine and glucuronolactone, other than levels in stimulant drinks are several times higher than that of the rest of the diet. The report from the Stimulant Drinks Committee recommends that stimulant drinks should be labelled with an indication that they are unsuitable for children (< 16 years), pregnant women and individuals sensitive to caffeine. Consumers should also be advised that caution be exercised in the consumption of stimulant drinks with alcohol or in association with sport and the products should carry a clear statement on the label to this effect.

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