Energy drinks linked to teens’ brain injury: Study

TORONTO: Teens who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) were seven times more likely to have drank at least five energy drinks in the week before, a new study shows.


TBI is an injury resulting in the loss of consciousness for at least five minutes, or a head trauma requiring an overnight stay in hospital.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) collected the data in a 2013 classroom survey using 10,000 students aged 11 to 20.

“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, who took part in the study.

“This is significant because energy drinks have previously been associated with general injuries, but not specifically with TBI.”

The report also says that teens who suffered a TBI were twice as likely to have mixed alcohol with their energy drinks.

“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,” Dr. Robert Mann, senior scientist at CAMH, said.

The concern is that consuming energy drinks could hinder the recovery of TBI in teens.

“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,” Cusimano said.

“Brain injuries among adolescents are particularly concerning because their brains are still developing.”

Consuming energy drinks is on the rise among teens and the caffeinated drinks are particularly popular 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,” Cusimano said.

“Advertisements for the drinks also often feature prominent athletes.”

Other TBI studies at St. Mike’s show that TBI can lead to poor academics, mental health issues, aggression and substance abuse. Cusimano says these are all factors that interfere with rehabilitation.

He says understanding the link between energy drinks and TBI can help prevent and treat head injuries.

Toronto health officials started looking into banning energy drinks for those under 18 back in November.

Under Toronto’s Municipal Alcohol Policy, the city is reviewing what beverages can be sold on civic property, including energy drinks.

“Toronto Public Health is currently reviewing available evidence to respond to the Board of Health request related to caffeinated energy drinks and youth,” Loren Vanderlinden, manager of health public policy with TPH, said Wednesday.

The report is expected to be submitted to the Toronto Board of Health in 2016.