Q: My teenage son loves energy drinks. They're the drink he reaches for first lately. Are they safe for him?

Q: My teenage son loves energy drinks. They're the drink he reaches for first lately. Are they safe for him?

A: Many adolescents choose drinks based on how much energy they think they will get from consuming them, and energy drinks are a popular choice. However, many children and adolescents misunderstand the benefits of energy drinks, which can have serious health consequences.

Sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade are a blend of water, carbohydrates and electrolytes to help maintain fluid balance. Energy drinks may list similar ingredients, but they typically also contain stimulants such as caffeine or guarana and other potentially dangerous substances. Many of them have never been tested in children, including herbal supplements and taurine, which is an amino acid thought to enhance performance and the effects of caffeine.

The stimulants in energy drinks can cause sleep disturbance, mood alteration, jitteriness, headaches, upset stomach and anxiety, all of which have the potential to negatively affect athletic performance. Because energy drinks also are loaded with sugar, they can cause an increase in dental problems and contribute to weight gain. In worst-case scenarios, arrhythmias or interactions with medications can occur.

Energy drinks have not been proven safe or effective. They are in no way recommended for use among children and adolescents.

-Jessica Buschmann, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with Nationwide Children's Hospital Sports Medicine.

Tip of the Month

Children who eat well, stay properly hydrated and get enough activity and rest will have plenty of natural energy. To be sure children are nourishing their active bodies, parents should:

• Emphasize water -- Water should be a child's main source of hydration. Other good fluid choices include Pedialyte and diluted juice (half water, half juice). Gatorade and Powerade are good for activities lasting for more than one hour. "Fitness" waters such as Propel do not qualify as a sports drink.

• Read labels carefully -- Be critical when reading nutrition labels. Claims made on energy drink labels may be inaccurate, since they are not regulated.

• Keep mealtime simple -- Sports drinks should not be consumed at meals as a casual beverage. Stick with the recommended amount of 100 percent fruit juice, low-fat milk or water.

Always consult your child's pediatrician concerning your child's health.

For more pediatric health news parents can use, visit our blog: 700childrens.nationwidechildrens.org.