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Study finds link between brain injury and energy drink consumption in teens

Energy drinks and traumatic brain injury (TBI).Study finds link between energy drinks and traumatic brain injury in teens.

Teens and energy drinks

A study in Canada has found a strong link between teenagers who have a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the consumption of energy drinks.  The study could not, however, say with certainty which comes first, and therefore which makes the other more likely.

A TBI is defined as an injury to the brain that results in the loss of consciousness for 5 or more minutes or one that results in hospitalization for at least one night.  Dr. Michael Cusimano is a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and one of the study’s authors.

“We have found a link between increased brain injuries and the consumption of energy drinks or energy drinks mixed with alcohol,” said Dr. Cusimano.  “This is significant because energy drinks have previously been associated with general injuries, but not specifically with TBI.”

The numbers were alarming.  Researchers examined data from over 10,000 Ontario students from the ages of 11 to 20; they found that teens who’d had a traumatic brain injury over the previous 12 months were 7 times more likely to have consumed five or more energy drinks during the previous week than teens without a history of brain injury.

Recovery from TBI

Whether the use of energy drinks is more prevalent among risk-takers and teens who play sports – nearly half of brain injuries in teens are sports-related – leading to a greater likelihood of brain injury, or whether having a brain injury leads to a desire to consume energy drinks, cannot be said for certain.  The authors say in this regard more study needs to be done.

The study also found that those who had a TBI were more likely to mix alcohol with energy drinks.  That is alarming because it could work to prevent recovery from a TBI, Dr. Cusimano said.  He said the caffeine in energy drinks is also a detriment to recovery.

“Energy drinks, such as 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,” Dr. Cusimano said.  “Brain injuries among adolescents are particularly concerning because their brains are still developing.”

The Canadian Beverage Association responded to the study by saying it has not found a link between energy-drink consumption and adverse health outcomes.  The association noted that energy drinks do not contain alcohol and have but half of the amount of caffeine a cup of coffee the same size has.

The study was published online in the journal PLOS ONE.



About the Author

Marcus Hondro
Marcus Hondro

Actor, writer, father, gadfly, ‘Nucks fan.

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