Commentaries published December 19 online in the Journal of the American Medical Association JAMA suggest negative health effects from excessive consumption of caffeine, especially in conjunction with alcohol.
One commentary details the health effects of alcohol mixed with energy drinks, including premixed “alcopop” drinks, such as the 12-percent-alcohol Four Loko, and self-mixing of highly caffeinated energy drinks with various types of alcohol. (See the related rootshed.com story on alcopops .)
Citing surveys showing up to 56 percent of college students mixing energy drinks with alcohol, the authors established the potential for public health consequences for this recreational use of energy drinks, which often contain herbal ingredients, including botanical sources of caffeine that contribute to the overall average of 80 to 140 mg of total caffeine content. The popular Red Bull energy drink, for example, has 80 mg of caffeine in a 10-ounce can.
At issue are concerns the caffeine counters the sedating and intoxicating effects of alcohol, thereby impairing judgment relative to risky behavior. JAMA concluded the scientific evidence on the alcohol/energy drink combination’s effects “on perceived intoxication and sedation has been inconsistent,” but noted mixing alcohol with energy drinks has been correlated to “increased risk for negative consequences of drinking.”
Take 18-year-old college student Danny Hummel, for example. He died of acute alcohol poisoning. Hummel’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) exceeded .40, eight times the limit considered too impaired to drive. His family attorney reported he also had several energy drinks prior to drinking. Without the energy shots, the attorney claims, Hummel would have “puked or passed out” long before reaching such a lethal BAC.
The JAMA report acknowledges action by state and federal officials against energy drinks containing alcohol help increase awareness and help marketers of these products, and most young people will continue to mix energy drinks and alcohol. “Thus, it is important that policy makers, parents, university administrators, health care professionals and consumers of alcohol mixed energy drinks have accurate information regarding the drinks as a public health danger,” they advised.
In addition to the commentaries, JAMA also published a Patient Page containing information on the energy drink market, including common ingredients, caffeine content of various known energy drink brands, and some health risks associated with energy drink use — increased heart rate, palpitations blood pressure, sleep disturbances, urine production and blood sugar.