Energy drinks: what’s really in that can?

17th September 2020 | Eativity editors

Alarming findings from a Monash-led study of food chemistry have shown that people may be exposed to harmful levels of hydrogen peroxide from consuming some energy drinks.

The food industry typically uses hydrogen peroxide for sanitisation. In Australia, residues of up to 5mg/kg are allowed in food and beverage products. The body produces hydrogen peroxide as a signalling molecule and levels in the range of less than 0.0003 mg/kg can be inactivated by cellular processes.

But hydrogen peroxide in a drink is stabilised in the acidic environments of both the beverage and the stomach after consumption. And this study has found some energy drinks contain higher levels of hydrogen peroxide than would be naturally produced in the body.

“The research indicates that people are drinking diluted hydrogen peroxide when they consume some energy drinks,” says Professor Louise Bennett from the Monash School of Chemistry, who led the study. “The long-term effects may explain some cancer risk trends in the age group who consume energy drinks.”

Energy drinks: what’s really in that can?
The researchers hope to work with individual companies to manage the problem.

The levels measured are 15,000 times higher than the natural levels produced in the body. Although the levels permitted by Australian regulators are up to 5 mg/kg, in many other countries, permitted levels are lower (0-0.5 mg/kg).

“This reflects that toxicity is not well understood,” Professor Bennett says. “Particularly for regular consumption of around 350ml, such as in a commercial beverage.

“We have analysed the levels of hydrogen peroxide in a range of commercial beverages and found that some chemical combinations of ingredients in energy drinks can drive this chemistry. We are hoping that our research will lead to new standards for avoiding production of hydrogen peroxide in these types of popular beverages.”