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Red Bull Gives You Wings, Gives Your Kids Heart Attacks

Energy drinks such as Red Bull, Rockstar, and Monster — laced with high doses of caffeine (up to seven times the amount in a cup of strong coffee, or 14 cans of cola) and other stimulants — have been shown to increase blood pressure, cause heart racing, and increase anxiety, in a study published last fall by Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Another study by Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, published this March, found similar concerns:

The researchers found that healthy adults who drank two cans a day of a popular energy drink experienced a 10-point increase in their blood pressure and a five- to seven-beat increase in heart rate. The study is published in March in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy.

These are “healthy adults” being affected this way.  But our children are also downing energy drinks in record numbers, looking for a quick after-school pick-me-up, or as a sports booster, without understanding the real risks. With their smaller bodies, the 50 to 500mg of caffeine typically found in one can will have much greater effects on children. There is also a concern that children are becoming addicted to caffeine because of energy drinks.

In the study, Griffiths highlights the cases of nine patients treated by a US poisons unit after having an energy drink called Redline, which contains 250mg caffeine. Eight of the nine were boys, with the youngest aged 13. Their symptoms ranged from nausea and vomiting to tremors, chest pain and a racing pulse. (guardian.co.uk)

The PEI Medical Society and the Maine Legislature want sales of energy drinks to children banned, after more and more children are showing up in emergency rooms and school nurse rooms with symptoms of caffeine intoxication, from elevated heart rates and blood pressure to headaches, sweating, anxiety, palpitations, nausea and sleep disturbances.

The symptoms of over exposure to caffeine had become serious enough for the Florida Poison Control Center at the University of Miami/Jackson to begin tracking it last year. The caffeine over exposure tracking discovered children as young as two were being brought in to Florida emergency rooms for symptoms resulting from drinking an energy drink containing excessive amounts of caffeine.

Opponents to this measure believe that it would be unenforceable, and that it should be a parent’s responsibility to educate and monitor their own children.  Ideally this would be true, however, it seems that education of adults is necessary first, since frequently parents are the ones providing these drinks for their children in the first place.

Energy drink industry representatives maintain that their products are not marketed to children, and in fact “not suitable for children” is plainly printed on the label of most drinks.  However, advertising campaigns centered on extreme sports, implying that the drinks are performance enhancers, are very appealing to young people, and we seem to have not noticed the warning labels.

These studies, while new, are only confirming fears that have been around for years.  But new energy drink products have continued to come on the market and sales have continued to skyrocket despite these concerns.  Johns Hopkins experts are saying the warning labels need to be more prominent and include information on caffeine overdose, just as over-the-counter caffeine pills already do.

If you’re looking for a quick energy boost, try these natural alternatives.  They won’t leave you dehydrated, coming down from sugar highs, or in the emergency room.

[This post was written by Heather Dunham]

Photo: Mishel Churkin via Creative Commons


  1. I need help.

    I have reason to believe, that I have discovered the mechanism of
    caffeine poisoning. Caffeine poisoning can manifest as mental and/or
    physical symptoms mimicking various conditions ranging from depression
    to psychosis and from slight muscle stiffness to multiple sclerosis.

    The mechanism is based on caffeine’s potentation of various
    neurotransmitters according to individual genetic properties. Adrenaline
    accelerates the sodium exchange pumps of resting skeletal muscle cells
    and the intracellular sodium level rises. Sodium binds extracellular
    water in the cell until it bursts, letting out myoglobin, which causes
    levels of porphyrins rise in blood and apply toxic stress to brain
    cells. The process can take years before manifesting any symptoms, as
    they are hidden under the pharmacodynamical effects of caffeine.

    First symptoms can be peripheral neuropathy in the form of muscle
    stiffness in neck and shoulder region. This is accompanied with
    paresthesia in scalp, face, upper extremities and expands to other parts
    of the body and limbs on individual timeline. GAD, panic disorder and
    depression start at the same time or after the physical symptoms.

    I suggest, that caffeine poisoning is actually a rhabdomyolysis based
    form of aquired porphyria.

    If you have access to patients, you can test them in a matter of days,
    and start treating them immediately. Patients should be caffeine users
    and fill the diagnostic criterias of fibromyalgia, ms, or other
    condition with similar symptoms, or depression, anxiety, panic disorder
    with or without peripheral neuropathy.

    Blood, 24hr urine and feces should be eaxamined for myoglobin,
    protoporphyrins and coproporphyrins.
    If the first tests are unclear or negative, myoglobin and porphyrins
    stored in the broken cells can be chelated with a suitable sulphur-based
    chelator like DMSA, MSM or plain garlic from the grocery store. New
    tests can be made in 3-5 days after introducing the chelating agent.
    Amounts of porphyrins may be so high, that some form of blood filtration
    may be needed in worst cases or if the chelating process advances too
    fast. Porphyrins are known to cause kidney failure and liver cancer.

    Kari Luoto

  2. People need to know the negative affects of caffeine. It’s bad enough people are drinking so much coffee, but then these energy drinks not only with caffeine levels thru the roof, but high sugar content or High Fructose Corn Syrup.

    Caffeine is an addictive drug with many side effects. I actually wrote an article: The Secret Side Effects of Coffee: Your Health is at Risk! http://www.squidoo.com/caffeinerisks

    Thanks for sharing your info!

  3. The Red Bull energy drink has long been a popular sports drink among young consumers. However, Red Bull energy drink side effects are under scrutiny, as the world embraces a new era in health consciousness.


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  2. […] Caffeine is popular to be sure. According to OverCaffeinated.org, “it is the most widely used behaviorally active drug in the world.” Drinking caffeine in a moderate amount through coffee and soda helps prevent overdose. It takes some energy, time, and a large bladder to drink a gallon of pop. However, with an energy drink, you only need to drink one can to get the effects of 7 strong cups of coffee or 14 cans of soda. […]

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