Ask Mary Jo
Be careful about using energy drinks
Q. Is it true that Red Bull drinks can kill you? I read online that they contain poison and make you have brain tumors.
Mary Jo’s response: Don’t believe everything you read online. I checked with Snopes.com (a website that debunks urban legends). According to the site, a common Internet claim is that Red Bull energy drink contains a banned stimulant linked to the growth of brain tumors. Snopes clarifies the claim as false. Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority refute the brain tumor claim.
Although brain tumors may not result from drinking Red Bull and other energy drinks, other problems have been reported. The Center for Food Safety Adverse Event Reporting System looks at negative reactions to drinking energy drinks, including fainting, heart problems, nausea and vomiting. It appears the key is moderation. Too much is not OK.
Most pediatricians ask young people your age to avoid energy drinks completely. A 2011 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against “stimulant toxicity” in young people. Many teens use energy drinks to stay awake, but rapid heartbeat, shaking, restlessness, headache, insomnia and chest pain are common side effects. Schools are asked to ban the use/sale of energy drinks, even to student athletes. Please be careful.
Q. Is caffeine addictive? My dad said it is, but I said no. I drink about three energy drinks a day. I bet him that I could stop without a problem. Then I got an awful headache. Does that mean he’s right?
Mary Jo’s response: My answer is complicated because the use of the word “addictive” with caffeine is complicated.
Did you know caffeine is a drug? It is a crystalline xanthine alkaloid found in the seeds, leaves and fruit of some plants. It can also be produced synthetically. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. A CNS stimulant is a drug that speeds up physical and mental processes. Regular use of caffeine has been shown to cause mild physical dependence, although there are positive and negative aspects to caffeine use. In that sense your dad is right. But caffeine is legal and doesn’t typically threaten a person’s physical, social or emotional health the way most addictive drugs do. I don’t know how much caffeine use threatens your financial health!
If a person suddenly stops taking caffeine, he/she may have the following symptoms of caffeine withdrawal:
• depressed mood
• difficulty concentrating.
Please also consider the type of energy drink you’re selecting. The average Red Bull contains 80 milligrams of caffeine.
A small cup of coffee may include as much as 95 milligrams, depending on the type. A large (16 oz.) coffee from McDonald’s contains 145 milligrams of caffeine, but a grande from Starbucks averages 330 milligrams (ranging from 259 to 564 milligrams). A 5-hour Monster drink contains 160 milligrams of caffeine, and Rockstar contains 175 milligrams. Consider this: Those drinks contain three to five times the amount of caffeine in a 12-ounce serving of a typical mass-marketed soda. The more concentrated 5-hour Energy doesn’t list its caffeine content, but Consumer Reports states it contains 215 milligrams of caffeine per two fluid ounce bottle (the “extra strength” contains a bit more, at 242 milligrams).
Here’s the bottom line: Be careful which drinks you consume, listen to your body and be aware of how caffeine affects you. A full 90 percent of Americans consume some type of caffeinated product, so you’re not alone. Each person is unique. Are you using caffeine to stay awake? Can you look at your schedule and slow down so caffeine isn’t necessary? Are you socially linked to caffeine use? Knowing your body and making sense of your life are important tasks for your age. Good luck.
Q. I’m in my first semester at college, and I’m happy you’re still there for me. I asked you questions all through middle and high school. Here I am again. I was surprised at the most popular drinks here at school. Energy drinks and alcohol. My boyfriend is a year older than me, and he’s in a fraternity. We had a huge discussion about which is worse for you – Red Bull and vodka (which is really popular), or a basic rum and Coke, or any kind of alcohol with Mountain Dew. I told him that higher amounts of caffeine in the drinks would make them less safe. Am I right?
Mary Jo’s response
All three of the mixers you list contain caffeine. Red Bull has the highest caffeine content, Coca-Cola contains less than half that at 34 milligrams and Mountain Dew contains 55 milligrams per serving. Mixing a stimulant (caffeine) with alcohol (a depressant) can cause the drinker to feel more alert and drink more alcohol without feeling impaired. Caffeine does not change a person’s blood-alcohol concentration. The full effects of the alcohol will be felt when the caffeine wears off. Both caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, increasing the chance of dehydration. Combining alcohol and caffeine can negatively affect balance, coordination and your body’s ability to regulate temperature. In other words, be cautious. More caffeine in this case isn’t better.