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Buzzkill: Energy Drinks may Cause Acute Liver Failure | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Drinking too many energy drinks can hurt your liver. (Catalin205/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Pounding too many energy drinks could wreck your liver — just as much as too many beers.

A 50-year-old construction worker developed acute hepatitis, likely from gulping up to five energy drinks a day for three weeks, according to a BMJ Case Report released Tuesday.

Although the man had chronic hepatitis C, his doctors blamed the beverage boosters for his liver failure. Chronic hep C typically produces no symptoms, and the patient’s sudden onset abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, jaundice and dark urine correlated with his energy drink habit. Plus, the symptoms resolved once he stopped.

This is the second reported case linking an energy drink binge with liver failure. An otherwise healthy 22-year-old woman with no history of hep C was also diagnosed with acute hepatitis in 2011. She had downed 10 cans of the stimulant a day for two weeks.

Both subjects consumed too much vitamin B3, or niacin, which hurt their livers. Each bottle of the construction worker’s unnamed energy drink had 200% of his recommended daily value of niacin. And he was drinking four or five a day.

“Niacin is a known drug that can cause liver toxicity,” Dr. David Bernstein, chief of hepatology at Northwell Health, told The News. “We see lots of abnormal liver tests and even liver failure from complementary alternative medicine, which include these energy drinks.”

The BMJ report noted that energy drinks, often labeled as supplements, contain caffeine and stimulants like niacin, guarana and ginseng that can wreak havoc on the heart, liver and kidneys.

“As the energy drink market continues to rapidly expand, consumers should be aware of the potential risks of their various ingredients,” wrote the authors of the BMJ report. “Vitamins and nutrients, such as niacin, are present in quantities that greatly exceed the recommended daily intake, lending to their high risk for harmful accumulation and toxicity.”

Sales of energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster and 5-Hour Energy spiked 60% between 2008 and 2012, according to a 2013 market trends report, which projected would bubble over $21 billion by 2017.

And as the bottles and cans of stimulating sippers have flown off the shelves, hospitals have treated a rising wave of patients suffering adverse reactions to them. The number of energy drink-related emergency department visits doubled between 2007 and 2011, the Drug Abuse Warning Network reported.

The caffeine in these drinks — often five times the amount found in a cup of coffee — has been the most common culprit, linked to heart and neurological problems, such as high blood pressure, heart palpitations, dizziness, headaches and nausea. The Mayo Clinic reported that young adults who drank a can of Rockstar Punched saw a 74% spike in stress hormone levels, and their blood pressure increased 6%.

The CDC also warns that drinkers who mix alcohol with energy drinks are three times more likely to binge drink, because mixing caffeine and stimulants with booze masks symptoms of drunkenness.

These drinks also get their buzz because they’re full of added sugar and sweeteners, which have been linked to Type 2 diabetes, obesity and tooth decay.

But the liver damage may come as a surprise to some.

“It’s very well known by the medical community, but I dont think it’s very well known by the people drinking it,” said Dr. Bernstein. “These drinks are giving you some sort of stimulant to wake you up, and nothing comes without a potential consequence.”

Look before you sip, and consider what medications and other supplements you are mixing in your booster. And drink responsibly.

“Even if your liver is normal, if you’re taking these drinks that have potential liver toxins, you can see some of the same reactions,” said Dr. Berstein. “People really need to be aware of what they’re putting in their mouths.”

The New York Times