The results of a study conducted and published by the Medical Journal of Australia on 11 November 2011, titled "Energy drinks: health risks and toxicity", has Aussie media a-stir due to the so-called alarming rise in cases reported to the New South Wales Poisons Information Centre: "from 12 in 2004 to 65 in 2010."
While certainly alarming on the face of it, there has been an explosion in the availability of these types of drinks that is explicitly mentioned in the study; energy drinks are "shown to comprise 20% of the total convenience store beverage market, with “Red Bull” and “V” accounting for over 97% of sales."
However, even with such a large increase in consumption of these drinks by a larger proportion on the population, there doesn't appear to be a proportionate increase in the cases of caffeine poisoning. If this were truly an epidemic, we would have expected a much larger increase in those abusing the substance.
Some of the overdoses can be blamed on those mixing drinks, such as the popular vodka and Red Bull mix, though these only accounted for 50 calls for help over the 7-year monitoring period. The majority of cases were mere overdoses of the drinks themselves, totalling 117. Hospitalisations only accounted for 128 of the calls for help.
The study concludes:
Given the clear evidence of toxicity and the growing number of hospitalisations associated with consumption of energy drinks, particularly in a vulnerable adolescent population, health authorities should increase awareness of the problem, improve package labelling and regulate caffeine content. We recommend that labelling and any marketing of these products should include appropriate health warnings and the national poisons hotline number (13 11 26 in Australia).
It's an issue worth keeping an eye on - heart palpitations, tremors and agitation are among the most common reactions to overdoses - and educating users on the dangers of overdosing is important, but we don't feel it's enough of an issue to call for bans on the drinks, as all drinks we've consumed have had obvious labels and clear nutritional information panels.
What are your thoughts?