Can energy drinks kill?

Simon le nippon, Flickr Creative Commons

WASHINGTON, January 21, 2014—Questions regarding the possible negative health effects of energy drinks continue to surface, as drinks like Red Bull, Monster and Relentless are blamed for heart problems, seizures, inaccurate ADHD diagnoses in children and even death in some cases.

Twenty-four-year-old Mita Duran was a hardworking copywriter in Thailand. Duran often bragged of her long hours of wakefulness, which she attributed to consuming large amounts of Krating Daeng, the Thai drink that inspired Red Bull. (Red Bull was created in 1987 by modifying the ingredients in Krating Daeng to suit western tastes.)

After a third day of Tweeting about her marathon of work without rest, Duran died. Her doctors and family claim her heart was so severely affected by Krating Daeng that she could not recover.

Unfortunately Duran’s story is not unique. X-Factor judge Sharon Osbourne blamed energy drinks for a seizure her daughter Kelly suffered in 2013. In March, Kelly Osbourne spent five days in the hospital after collapsing, apparently from ingesting large amounts of unspecified energy drinks.

The most popular energy drinks have 13 teaspoons of sugar and 160 mg of caffeine in each 500 ml can. This is the equivalent of four cans of soda.

As much as energy drink manufacturers claim their product is not targeting youth, this claim could not be further from the truth.

Teachers in schools around the world report students feeling sick, dizzy and shaky from such drinks. The problem is so serious that British government advisor John Vincent declared that energy drinks are “effectively another form of drugs.”

In fact, the widespread use of energy drinks by young children is suspected to be a source for misdiagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder or ADHD.

Because young students who ingest multiple energy drinks experience anxiety, hyperactivity, excitability, irritability and nervousness imitating many of the symptoms of ADHD, if a young person is not honest with their physician and parents about their energy drink intake, the behavior displayed might well lead to a misdiagnosis.

Given our current culture of overmedication, children misdiagnosed with ADHD are likely to be prescribed Ritalin or an equivalent medicine. Taking Ritalin along with energy drinks will inevitably result in traumatic issues.

Adults are equally at risk if they mix alcohol with energy drinks.

Often called ‘Jager bombs’, some individuals use an energy drink as a mixer with straight liquor. According to Dr. Megan Patrick at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, this lethal mix makes it easier to drink to excess and raises the likelihood of stepping over the line to alcohol poisoning.

Researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany suggest the combination of large amounts of caffeine and alcohol can also cause fatal heart rhythm problems. Researchers found that healthy adults who consumed a combination of alcohol and energy drinks had significantly increased heart contraction rates, affecting the left ventricle within an hour after their first drink.

Life includes stress, anxiety, irritation, nervousness and edginess. We struggle to reduce these feelings by employing several methods to overcome the discomfort. Why anyone would purchase these issues in liquid form seems strikingly nonsensical—and to add alcohol to a can of liquid nonsense borders on dangerous psychosis and loss of reality.

Interestingly, companies are allowed to market a deadly cocktail—made even more deadly if mixed with alcohol–which can potentially initiate heart damage, alcohol poisoning and in some cases death, in the name of monetary profit and giving adults the right to pick their poison.

Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based psychotherapist and writer.

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