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Have people really died after drinking energy drinks?

“Is it true that people have died after drinking energy drinks? If it is, is it the caffeine that caused the death or something else?”

Energy drinks have become increasingly popular over the past 20 years, particularly amongst young people. In the advertising that promotes these products we’re usually told that they’ll provide some kind of extra boost, suggesting there’s something contained within the drink that you’re not going to find elsewhere. They typically contain caffeine, as well as range of other ingredients, such as guarana, ginseng and taurine. When used in isolation these are reasonably safe, however, little is known about their safety when they’re consumed in combination. It’s still unclear as to whether it is one of the components in energy drinks, multiple ingredients, or their combination that cause some of the more serious negative effects that are reported.

Even so, it would appear that most of the adverse reactions are likely due to the caffeine content of these drinks, particularly when large amounts have been consumed. Some of those reported include palpitations, agitation, tremor and gastrointestinal upset. They’ve also been associated with seizures, both in those with epilepsy and in those without a history of the condition. In Australia, energy drink-associated emergency department visits have increased over the years, as have calls to Poisons Information Centres across the country, and it is true that deaths have been linked to these products.

According to one US report released in 2019, 34 deaths were linked to the consumption of energy drinks, usually as a result of a heart attack. Some of these involved otherwise healthy young people drinking a number of energy drinks either before, or during playing sport and then suffering a cardiac arrest. Using these drinks during or before exercising is therefore not recommended due to the possibility of dehydration and a subsequent rise in blood pressure. It’s important to note that these types of deaths, particularly in young people, are usually due to an underlying heart condition but in some of these cases there was no evidence of any pre-existing problem, leading experts to urge caution when it comes to drinking large amounts of these products.

Drinking one can of an energy drink every now and again is likely to be safe for most healthy young adults. However, like anything, have too much, too often and that’s when things go wrong.

First published: November 2023

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