Eric DiLauro Pro Trainer
Research finds energy and sports drinks quickly erode tooth enamel
Poonam Jain is a mother of two college-age daughters who tell her that their friends are constantly guzzling highly popular energy drinks to jolt them awake at night or get their wheels turning in the morning.
My 17-year-old daughter reveals the same thing about her friends to me.
Most of us have known for some time that energy drinks are high in caffeine and sugar (which isn't good for the waistline), but not much research has been done on the acid content of these drinks. That is, until now.
Jain is also an associate professor in the School of Dental Medicine at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. She and colleagues published a study in the May/June issue of General Dentistry that suggests high acid levels in energy and sports drinks erode tooth enamel.
Once enamel, the hardest substance in the human body, is gone, it doesn't come back, and teeth are more prone to decay. Jain said this is particularly troubling because teens and young adults consume large quantities of the drinks.
"A lot of people assume mistakenly that because sports drinks will replenish electrolytes after exercise and energy drinks will give them energy, they're healthy," said Jain, lead author of the study.
"The fact is that most are highly acidic, and we wanted to see if they were as acidic as soft drinks and could damage enamel."
Although her research focuses solely on the effect of acid on teeth, she said other studies have shown its potential impact on bones. The body tries to neutralize acid by drawing calcium out of bones — and that could cause osteoporosis and kidney stones, Jain said.
She added that teen girls who consume highly acidic drinks are three times more likely to have softer bones than girls who don't.
"We used to think that it was post-menopausal women who were at such risk for losing bone density," Jain said. "However, we now understand that teen girls are as well. They accumulate all the calcium in their bones during the teen years, and those are critical years when they should be consuming diets rich in calcium, not acid."
In the study, researchers took enamel slices from extracted human molars and premolars and immersed them in 13 sports drinks and nine energy drinks for 15-minute intervals, she said. Researchers then exposed the enamel to artificial saliva for two hours.
Saliva typically neutralizes acid in about 15 to 30 minutes — making it less likely the acid will damage teeth, Jain said.
The process was repeated four times a day for five days. Jain said researchers stopped the experiment at five days because they saw such significant changes in the enamel.
"We saw a 3 percent weight loss of enamel with energy drinks and about a 1.5 percent loss with sports drinks," she said.
But the American Beverage Association called the study flawed, saying people don't keep liquid in their mouths for 15-minute intervals over five-day periods.
"It is irresponsible to blame foods, beverages or any other single factor for enamel loss andtooth decay," the ABA said in a statement. "Science tells us that individual susceptibility to both dental cavities and tooth erosion varies depending on a person's dental hygienebehavior, lifestyle, total diet and genetic makeup."
Still, Jain said, her study found that just a few sips of the drinks a day over time were enough to do damage because of the acidification of the saliva.
Jain said one of the reasons for conducting the study was that she realized many of her patients — and even some of her dental students — don't understand how certain drinks affect their health.
"Patients will say: 'I'm not drinking regular soda. I only drink the diet soft drinks that are sugar-free,'" she said. "And Gatorade and Red Bull come in sugar-free varieties. They think that once sugar has been eliminated from beverages and artificial sweeteners have been put in, they're safe to drink."
But consumers are unaware that the diet sugar-free versions are often highly acidic.
"Right now we are debating how to provide good access to health care and dental care, and cavities are easily preventable by making lifestyle changes," Jain said.
Here's something to consider: If you must drink highly acidic beverages, including orange juice, it may be helpful to chew gum afterward, which stimulates saliva production and combats acid, she said. Rinsing may also help.
Eric Di Lauro
Mr. Canada Pro Trainer
Team Cutler Mr Olympia