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Energy drinks: health risks and toxicity

Med J Aust 2012; 196 (1): 46-49. || doi: 10.5694/mja11.10838

Summary

Objectives: To describe the epidemiology and toxicity of caffeinated energy drink exposures in Australia.

Design, setting and subjects: Retrospective observational study analysing data from calls regarding energy drink exposures recorded in the database of an Australian poisons information centre over 7 years to 2010.

Main outcome measures: Type of exposure; co-ingestants; symptoms reported; and reported hospitalisations.

Results: Callers reported 297 exposures to energy drinks, which showed an increasing annual trend from 12 in 2004 to 65 in 2010. Median age for the 217 subjects with recreational exposure was 17 years (interquartile ratio [IQR], 15–21; range, 11–60) and 57% were male. One hundred recreational users co-ingested other substances, predominantly alcohol (50) or other caffeinated products (44). The number of energy drinks consumed in one session varied greatly (median, 5 units; IQR, 3–8; range, 1–80). Most subjects who reported recreational use reported experiencing symptoms (87%). The most common symptoms were palpitations, agitation, tremor and gastrointestinal upset. Twenty-one subjects had signs of serious cardiac or neurological toxicity, including hallucinations, seizures, arrhythmias or cardiac ischaemia. At least 128 subjects (57 with no co-ingestants) required hospitalisation.

Conclusions: Reports of caffeine toxicity from energy drink consumption are increasing, particularly among adolescents, warranting review and regulation of the labelling and sale of these drinks. Educating adolescents and increasing the community’s awareness of the hazards from energy drinks is of paramount importance.

  • Naren Gunja1,2
  • Jared A Brown1

  • 1 NSW Poisons Information Centre, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 Discipline of Emergency Medicine, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.

Correspondence: naren.gunja@sydney.edu.au

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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