New Data Show Junk Food, Energy Drinks May Pose Unique Risks
The popularity of energy drinks and junk food might have unique risks for teenagers who consume too much of them during the later stages of brain development. These are just two of the factors potentially affecting teen brain development examined in a new special issue of Birth Defects Research: The Teenage Brain, published by the Teratology Society with John Wiley & Sons.
The scientific journal issue includes "Taurine, Caffeine, and Energy Drinks: Reviewing the Risks to the Adolescent Brain," a team at Northern Kentucky University, headed by lead author Christine Curran, PhD, and her coauthor Cecile Marczinski, PhD. According to Curran, not only is the rise in energy drink consumption (often mixed with alcohol) among teens alarming, but so are animal studies showing its effects on brain development. "Our review indicates that we don't know enough about the effects of high consumption of energy drinks and the ingredients found in them at this critical time in mammalian brain development," she says. "Our recent findings in adolescent and young adult mice exposed to high taurine levels indicate there can be adverse effects on learning and memory and increased alcohol consumption in females."
Another review included in the special issue examines junk food, which is defined as "highly palatable and rewarding, but nutritionally poor." According to lead author, Amy Reichelt, PhD, at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, junk food isn't only found to be bad for waistlines but also bad for the teen brain. "Because key neurotransmitter systems in the brain responsible for inhibition and reward signaling are still developing during the teen years, existing primarily on junk food could negatively affect decision making, increase reward-seeking behavior, and influence poor eating habits throughout adulthood," Reichelt says.
"One piece of good news is that exercise might be the answer to steer teens away from certain exposures," explains Michiko Watanabe, PhD, coeditor of the special Birth Defects Research issue. According to two other reviews included in the issue, "Exercise, Cognition, and the Adolescent Brain" and "The Neurobiology of Substance Use on the Adolescent Brain and Putative Therapeutic Effects of Exercise," exercise intervention may prevent long-term effects of adverse exposures in teens, but the majority of teens aren't exercising enough. "The long list of exercise benefits could motivate teens to get off the sofa," Watanabe adds.