Energy drinks have risen astronomically in popularity over the past decade, but the potential health effects of these drinks have not been thoroughly researched. However, a new study published in PLOS ONE suggests drinking energy drinks on a regular basis may increase a teen’s risk of traumatic brain injury.
Teens who reported experiencing a traumatic brain injury within the past year were seven times more likely to have consumed at least five energy drinks in the past week compared to those without a history of TBI.
The researchers also reported that teens who reported sustaining TBI within the past year were at least twice as likely to have consumed energy drinks mixed with alcohol compared to teens with no history of TBI in the past year.
“We’ve found a link between increased brain injuries and the consumption of energy drinks or energy drinks mixed with alcohol,” said Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital. “This is significant because energy drinks have previously been associated with general injuries, but not specifically with TBI.”
Dr. Cusimano suggested energy drink consumption may interfere with the recovery after experiencing TBI as well. “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,” said Dr. Cusimano. “Brain injuries among adolescents are particularly concerning because their brains are still developing.”
Energy drinks are especially popular among teens in Canada and the United States, but the study suggests the drinks are particularly linked with those who play sports. “I think that energy drinks appeal to teens, especially athletes, because the drinks provide temporary benefits such as increased alertness, improved mood and enhanced mental and physical states,” said Dr. Cusimano. “Advertisements for the drinks also often feature prominent athletes.”
Teens who self-reported a brain injury in the past year while playing sports were twice as likely to consume energy drinks as teens who reported a TBI from other types of injuries or accidents.
The researchers used data collected by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey for the new study. For the data, around 10,000 students between the ages of 11 and 20 filled out self-administered, in-classroom surveys. For this survey, TBI was defined as an injury resulting in the loss of consciousness for at least five minutes or being hospitalized for at least one night.
“It is particularly concerning to see that teens who report a recent TBI are also twice as likely to report consuming energy drinks mixed with alcohol,” said Dr. Robert Mann, senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and director of the OSDUHS. “While we cannot say this link is causal, it’s a behaviour that could cause further injury and so we should be looking at this relationship closely in future research.”
Out of all the students who participated in the survey, around 22% reported experiencing a TBI within the past year, with approximately half of those brain injuries attributed to sports injuries.