Do Energy Drinks Make Teens More Prone to Head Injuries?

By May Wilkerson 09/18/15

Teens who consume energy drinks may be less likely to recover from traumatic brain injuries.

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Teens who consume energy drinks like Monster or Red Bull are more likely to get head injuries than those who don’t, a new study finds. Researchers are exploring whether the highly-caffeinated beverages might interfere with how teens recover from these injuries.

Canadian researchers analyzed information from a survey of more than 10,000 Ontario middle and high school students, ages 11 to 20, in 2013. About 22% of students had at some point experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI), which is defined as a sustained blow to the head that left them unconscious for at least five minutes, or sent them to the hospital overnight. And 6% had experienced a TBI in the past year. Most of these injuries occurred while the students were playing sports.

They found that the teens who reported a traumatic brain injury in the past year were seven times more likely to have had at least five energy drinks in the past week compared to those with no history of TBI. Teens who reported TBI within the past year were more than twice as likely to have consumed energy drinks mixed with alcohol than teens who sustained TBI more than a year previously.

"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."

The findings suggest that highly-caffeinated energy drinks might interfere with the body's ability to heal from TBI, say researchers.

"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," said Dr. Cusimano. "Brain injuries among adolescents are particularly concerning because their brains are still developing."

However, though the study indicates an association, researchers cannot prove that drinking energy drinks increases teens' risk for TBI. There may be other contributing factors. For example, teens who drink energy drinks may be more prone to risk-taking. Teens might also drink energy drinks to cope with the effects of their injuries.

Past research suggests that young athletes often drink energy drinks, and athletes are also at higher risk of TBI. But the new study also found a link between energy drink consumption and TBIs that weren’t sports-related, such as those caused by falling down or fighting.

Researchers said future studies should investigate the link between energy drink consumption and TBI, and examine what motivates teens to drink these beverages in the first place.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.