Energy Drinks! (and their effects)

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By: Jessica Bussey

With final exams right around the corner, marathon study sessions and sleepless nights will certainly be the norm for some. But before reaching for that next Redbull, be sure to keep your consumption in check, or you just might end up with hepatitis. In today’s hectic society, the consumption of energy-boosting beverages has skyrocketed, and teens and young adults are notorious for consistently toting their beverage of choice to class, work, and even the gym. In fact, young men ages 18 to 34 consume the highest reported amounts of any age group.1 Many of these energy drinks, which are classified as dietary supplements, are actually toxic to the liver. However, this consequence, as well as multiple others, is commonly overlooked due to clever marketing campaigns and consumers’ desires to excel. In fact, drug-induced liver injury, a category which includes dietary supplements and energy drinks, is responsible for nearly 50% of all liver failure cases in the US.2

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These drinks contain a combination of high amounts of sugar, caffeine, B vitamins, and proprietary “energy blends,” which tend to include combinations of taurine, guarana, ginseng, yohimbe, and carnitine. The caffeine content alone, which may be up to 500 mg in a 24-oz energy drink, is the equivalent of drinking up to four or five cups of coffee. Although up to 400 mg of caffeine is generally considered to be safe for healthy adults,3 many energy drink consumers are also drinking caffeine from other sources throughout the day, which puts them in danger of excess consumption, which can potentially cause heart, nerve, stomach, and muscle problems.

With the multiple different herbal extracts, amino acids, and vitamins also present in these drinks, it is possible to cause significant damage to the liver. Recently, a previously healthy 50-year-old man was diagnosed with acute hepatitis after excessive energy drink consumption. His symptoms included general malaise, dark urine, abdominal pain, vomiting, and jaundice,4 and he reported having four to five energy drinks every day for three weeks in order to keep up with his demanding work schedule.4 The man’s physicians determined that his liver injury was caused by Vitamin B3, or niacin, toxicity.2 Although it has important functions in digestion and cholesterol maintenance, niacin in large amounts over time can damage liver tissue. In this particular case, the patient was consuming 160-200 mg of niacin per day, compared to the Recommended Daily Allowance of roughly 15 mg/day. The physicians also found that the his levels of Vitamin B12 and folate were beyond quantitative measure,2 further confirming their gradual accumulation as overconsumption continued. Fortunately, after several days in the hospital without energy drinks, the man’s liver function returned to normal.2

This is one of only two reported cases of excessive energy drink consumption-induced hepatitis.2 However, with our culture’s seemingly relentless pursuits of efficiency, productivity, and success, it is important for consumers to recognize the potential severity of the side effects associated with overconsumption of these supplements. Although energy drinks may offer short-term benefits, as with all things, moderation is key.

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References:

  1. Harb, JN, Taylor ZA, Khullar V, Sattari M. Rare cause of acute hepatitis: a common energy drink. BMJ Case Reports. 2016; 10.1136/bcr-2016-216612; 2016.1.
  2. Energy Drinks. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/energy-drinks. Modified May 23, 2016. Accessed November 18, 2016.
  3. Caffeine: How Much is Too Much? http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678. Published April 14, 2014. Accessed November 18, 2016.
  4. Crawford, Elizabeth. Energy drinks are in the spotlight again after man develops acute hepatitis after excessive consumption. http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Manufacturers/Man-develops-acute-hepatitis-after-excessive-energy-drink-consumption. Accessed November 18, 2016. 1
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