A new University of Toronto study found that teenagers who drink heavily caffeinated energy drinks are more prone to traumatic brain injuries.
In the firm, I see brain injuries in all sorts of situations — car wrecks, bicycle accidents, falls, etc. But for teenagers, the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries is sports. The rate of brain injuries in teens has been on a rise (in part, I think, because of better diagnoses).
The new study sheds some additional light on the problem. The researchers interviewed 10,000 people from ages 11-20 and asked a series of questions, including questions about usage of energy drinks and their incidents of brain injuries. The results were startling.
Those kids who had consumed one energy drink in the last year were twice as likely to have suffered a brain injury and non-drinkers, and those kids who consumed five or more energy drinks in the last week were nearly seven times more likely to have sustained a brain injury.
These results don’t necessarily show that the use of energy drinks makes a person more likely to suffer a brain injury from an event. But it’s possible. The high caffeine levels affect the brain in ways that we don’t know, and the caffeine levels could make the brain more susceptible to injury. More study is needed there.
Alternatively, there is some thought that there is a correlation between the use of energy drinks and high risk behavior. Maybe people who drink energy drinks engage in activities that are more dangerous than what a typical kid experiences.
Finally, there is the possibility that the use of energy drinks is a coping mechanism to deal with the after-effects of brain injuries. Many kids with brain injuries describe themselves as being tired or in a fog. Perhaps the usage of energy drinks is a way to fight off those symptoms.
There is still a lot to learn on these topics, but there is enough concern that I think we should discourage the use of these energy drinks by kids until we know that they’re safe.