Study Finds that Teens with Traumatic Brain Injury Often Drank Energy Drinks Right Before
A new study shows that teenagers who suffered a traumatic brain injury in the last year were seven times more likely to report drinking five or more energy drinks in a week, when compared to teens who did not suffer a traumatic brain injury.
“Energy drinks, such a Red Bull and Rockstar, contain high levels of caffeine and change the chemical state of the body, which can prevent people from getting back on track after a TBI,” study co-author Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, said in a statement. “Brain injuries among adolescents are particularly concerning because their brains are still developing.”
The study involved responses to a 2013 survey with information from 10,272 students between 7th and 12th grade. About 22% of the respondents reported having a traumatic brain injury in their lifetimes, with 6% of respondents reporting a traumatic brain injury in the 12 months before the survey. Students who suffered a traumatic brain injury in the 12 months before the survey were more likely than their peers without traumatic brain injuries to have consumed an energy drink spiked with alcohol. Teenagers also involved with sports reported drinking more energy drinks compared to their peers who were not involved in sports teams.
“We think the common denominator between traumatic brain injuries and energy drinks is sports,” says study author Gabriela Ilie, of the division of Neurosurgery and Injury Prevention Research Office at St. Michael’s Hospital. “Marketing campaigns for energy drinks usually are carefully crafted to include sponsorship of events that are very appealing to this age group, like snowboarding.”
However, the study’s authors were particularly concerned about teenagers mixing alcohol with energy drinks, especially since the evidence pointed to a higher change of serious injury which could include traumatic brain injury.
“Mix [the energy drinks] with alcohol and suddenly the effects of energy drinks alone pale in comparison to the physical and emotional risks posed by this mixture to a developing brain,” says Ilie. “Let us keep in mind that our brain doesn’t stop developing until mid-20s or even early 30s.”
“We’ve found a link between increased brain injuries and the consumption of energy drinks or energy drinks mixed with alcohol,” Cusimano added. “This is significant because energy drinks have previously been associated with general injuries, but not specifically with TBI.”
The study’s authors added that they are not suggesting that energy drinks directly cause traumatic brain injury – the survey points out a link between advertising culture around energy drinks, and how many certain groups of teenagers consume. The authors added that the effects of caffeinated energy drinks on developing brains are still little understood.
Researchers have linked energy drinks to other harmful side effects, including heart palpitations, dizziness, chest pain, insomnia, restlessness and agitation, shaking or tremors, and gastrointestinal problems. While none of the studies linking these problems to energy drinks have been conclusive, a wrongful death lawsuit against Red Bull settled out of court recently. Other long-term side effects and severe injuries could become more apparent as these energy drink consuming teenagers grow older.