Guzzling Too Many Energy Drinks Can Cause Hepatitis

By Carl Engelking | November 1, 2016 5:30 pm
In the first season of the IFC television series, "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret," the main character, Todd Margaret, needs sell an obnoxious inventory of Thunder Muscle. (Credit: AMC Networks)

In the first season of the IFC television series, “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,” the main character, Todd Margaret, needs to sell an obnoxious inventory of Thunder Muscle. (Credit: AMC Networks)

In the United States, most people work more than the not-so-standard 40-hour workweek, and energy drinks are an increasingly popular way to power through 10-hour days and reach the finish line.

But take it easy on those Red Bulls, Monsters and 5-Hour Energy bottles — your liver will thank you. Case in point: Doctors at the University of Florida report what they believe to be the second documented case of acute hepatitis brought on by chugging too many energy drinks.

Those Aren’t Wings

The patient was a 50-year-old, otherwise healthy, man who had been nagged by abdominal pain, vomiting and drowsiness for a few weeks. He brushed it off as flu-like symptoms, but grew alarmed after he noticed darkened urine and signs of jaundice. After visiting with doctors, he was promptly diagnosed with severe acute hepatitis.

Doctors ruled out drugs, alcohol and sexual behavior as causes, and tests revealed this wasn’t a typical viral hepatitis infection. However, levels of B vitamins — used as “energy blends” in beverages — in his liver were literally off the charts. Sure enough, the patient told doctors he had been consuming four to five energy drinks daily, for three weeks straight, to get through his labor-intensive days as a construction worker.

He was treated and released after spending three days in the hospital. The cure was simple: he stopped downing energy drinks. His doctors published a detailed case report Tuesday in the British Medical Journal.

Moderation, As Always

Energy drinks contain a host of B vitamins, but the patient’s toxicity profile clearly indicated an overdose of Vitamin B3, also known as niacin.

The typical 5-Hour Energy contains 30 milligrams of niacin, or 140% of the recommended daily intake. (Credit: Joshua Rainey Photography / Shutterstock.com)

The typical 5-Hour Energy contains 30 milligrams of niacin, or 140% of the recommended daily intake. (Credit: Joshua Rainey Photography / Shutterstock.com)

Niacin is used pharmaceutically and in supplements to treat high cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attack by improving circulation. If you don’t get enough niacin, it can cause pellagra, a nasty condition characterized by cracked, scaly skin, dementia and diarrhea.

Like all the B vitamins, niacin helps convert carbohydrates into glucose — the body’s fuel. That’s why energy drinks are loaded with them. But, like all things, too much niacin can be trouble.

Typically, a daily 500-milligram dose of niacin is considered toxic, and doctors recommend routine liver tests if you consume more than 100 mg per day. The patient in this case was consuming roughly 160 to 200 mg (40-50 mg per drink) every day over a three-week period.

Not the First Time

In 2011, a 22-year-old woman who was consuming 10 cans of an energy drink daily was the first documented case of acute hepatitis caused by too many energy drinks. Doctors in that case also suspected niacin as the culprit.

Herbal supplements and energy drinks are ubiquitous on store shelves and checkout counters today. The estimated number of dietary supplements available to consumers ballooned from 4,000 in 1994 to some 55,000 by 2012. It’s estimated that 23,000 emergency room visits each year in the U.S. are related to misusing dietary supplements — primarily weight-loss remedies and herbal energy products.

Doctors aren’t absolutely certain if niacin bore all the blame for the construction worker’s liver woes, as other ingredients in energy drinks might interact in unexpected ways. However, they say this second instance serves to bring more attention to an often unrecognized phenomenon.

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  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    The FDA screamed “felonious fortification” when makers of cheap fortified wines wanted to add thiamine to prevent alcoholic neuropathy caused by thiamine malabsorption. We must ban all vitamins in everything – Schedule 1 – until they are each shown to be safe and effective, and then only by prescription, administered by exquisitely expensive implanted Alzet osmotic pumps (whose price, not covered by Obamacare, will skyrocket).

    Research on Schedule 1 drugs is prohibited.

    • Ryan Dean

      It’s not that research on Schedule 1 drugs is prohibited, it’s that no one seems to want to fund it or bother with the hassle that comes from handling them due to their status.

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        Yes, that sums to “prohibited.” If you had a vast sum of money and could jump through all the hoops, there woudl be more hoops.

        • Alhanalem

          Banning material things is not a solution to problems and often just makes those things more desireable and creates a black market for them. It’s actually easier to regulate them if they’re kept out in the open.

    • Comicus

      Reductio ad absurdum? I know this isn’t Scientific American but you have to be smarter than this.

  • John Doe

    I’m doomed.

  • Tim Haight

    Is this the Onion. This article looks like the fake stuff they publish

    • Lasher

      Well, Tim, it is full of phonies.

  • Eau de Javelina

    Unless this guy is ultra-sensitive to niacin, either the drinks actually contained much more niacin than stated or it’s likely something else caused his hepatitis. Many people take 3-5 grams of niacin a day (under medical supervision) for cholesterol control. 500mg a day is nothing for the average person.

  • j2saret

    No manufacturer cares a wit about the consumer except to chump them unless and until the government forces them to be reasonable and responsible.

    • Diane Wyatt

      Like big tobacco?

      • j2saret

        Or infant formula or hunting rifles or or or

        • William Burke

          Yeah, where do they get off, convincing hunters they need a hunting rifle?

          • j2saret

            How about concealing from the hunters that their 30-06 will dischargege with the safety on while held at port arms.

          • William Burke

            By “concealing” you mean what, exactly? Not telling them? Sounds a bit like negligence to me.

          • j2saret

            Malicious actions designed to hide the fatial results of using their products goes beyond negligent behavior.

          • William Burke

            Define the word “fatial”.

          • j2saret

            Sorry typo. Fatal as in mother shot and killed son because of defect in safety known to manufacturer but neither disclosed to purchasers nor corrected in later rifles. Or fatal as in manufacturer changed composition of infant formula without disclosing it and infants fed the formula upon the advice of physicans died or developed horrendous defects.

          • William Burke

            Blame-shifting nonsense.

            (1) Keep your trigger finger away from the trigger until you have something you want to shoot.

            (2) Never point a gun at anything or anyone you’re not willing to shoot.

            She violated both. The lack of a working safety is not to blame. SHE IS.

          • j2saret

            Wrong again knee jerk bozo. The model in question was known to the manufacturer to fire with out a trigger pull while safety was on. Go imitate Hemingway you soulless waste of space.

          • William Burke

            Fire without a trigger pull? And without any ammo in it too, I’ll bet!

            What model was this? Manufacturer? Was it the Springchester Ghost Gun?

          • j2saret

            Don’t be more of a lazy idiot than you have to be a couple of seconds using google turned up far more recent legal cases than the ones I knew about back when I was selling military surplus and out door gear. Do your own work and check out the Remington 700 history of discharge law suits.

          • William Burke

            You made the claim. The burden of proof is upon you.

          • j2saret

            So ignorant and lazy. Typical knee jerk wing nut. Have your group home worker type it in for you.

          • William Burke

            “I got nothing but claims.” – j2saret

          • Lasher

            Prove it in a court of law, and get rich, instead of begging the government rubber-stampers for help like a toddler does.

        • Lasher

          Take ’em to court like a man, sport, instead of whining to us like a baby wanting its bottle.

    • Lasher

      In a free society, it is not the job of government to tell a merchant what to charge for his product, it is a function of the marketplace. Supply and demand, don’t you know? If we ever get a government that believes in a free market and free enterprise, you’ll see what I mean. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ebcbcb131609f5319a508d10545f0a06ba76478528b84e82b15086326775177a.png

      • j2saret

        And you come accross as a typical knee jerk ignorant tool of criminal plutocrats. In both the infant formula and fire arms example s the products were defective and known to be defective but it was better for the companies and their management to conceal the harm. If your vision of a free society is one where the strong are free to hurt others, then my free society is one in which your ilk are tarred, feathered and ridden out of the society on a rail.

        • Lasher

          Oooooh, is little man “j2saret” all upset with Lasher? Too bad! There is a solution that does not encompass giving this socialist mess we are suffering in to other morons and crooks like you appear to be, old sport, and that is the courts. If someone is the victim of some entity that has caused him or his dependents harm, the thing to do is to take that company into court and demand compensation in a large enough amount to forestall any further misconduct by the offending business. Why do you liberal leeches always look to the crooked government for help instead of helping yourselves to already established methods of
          relief? Can’t you do anything for yourself? That’s what the courts are for. Poor little helpless lambs like you and your kind always want a solution to your problems by Big Daddy Government, don’t you?

  • Lee Riffee

    What ever happened to plain old caffeine? That’s normally the main ingredient in “energy” drinks and it doesn’t build up in the body like some vitamins do. Of course, caffeine in excess can be bad as well, but I’ve never heard of it doing anything to the liver.

    • Alhanalem

      Caffeine doesn’t give you more energy by itself, it’s a stimulant that speeds up your system and makes it easier for you to use energy. It’s the B vitamins in tandem with the caffeine that m akes energy drinks effective. With just plain caffeine, you’re often just tired but awake.

    • Peter Galaxy1

      but it is extremely acidic, and the western diet is acidic enough as it is without the coffee !

  • Darin West

    I find this article disturbing for a specific reason. It states 500mg is the daily recommended niacin dose. And that its used to treat high cholesterol. Well, my Dr used it to treat low good cholesterol…started at a 32. He started me on 500mg /day. By the end when I lost my ins, I was up to 4k mg/day along with 4k mg of fish oil (omega 3s). My good cholesterol went down to a 29. This may explain why. Was also on crestor 10mg for the bad cholesterol of 265 and Antara 25mg for the 495 tri-glycerine. Both were at good lvls in 6wks, but nothing raised that good cholesterol.

    • SpinozaQ

      The article states a daily 500mg dose is “toxic”, not “recommended”.

      • Darin West

        Thanks…I miss read that. Still that makes it even worse from my Dr starting Me at 500 and going up to 4k.

  • Sister Kaite

    HOW CAN A PERSON GET A vIRUS FROM A DRINK????? are they putting virus cells in the drinks??? This is not the only medication that is listed as can give you Hepatitis…Please somebody explain this to me

    • Hector Rodriguez

      The meaning of the word hepatitis is literally inflammation of the liver. That is why the virus that causes inflammation of the liver is called hepatitis virus. But there are many things that may cause hepatitis, not just the virus. And there are other viruses that also may cause hepatitis, not just HVA, HVB, etc. Mononucleosis would do the trick.
      Also, there are no “virus cells”. Viruses are not cells. They are much smaller than that. Orders of magnitude smaller.

      • Sister Kaite

        Hector Rodriguez Than you so much for clearing that up for me..What is HVA, HVB? Do you mean HAV, HBV,….like HCV which is Hepatitis C ?? But you do need a Virus to actually contract HCV, right?? And can you get HCV from Mononucleosis? Or just Hepatitis(inflammation of the liVer)? You do need to be subjected to the Virus HCV to contract HCV, right? And the same with HVA, HVB? I haVe a nurse friend who has contracted Hepatitis F, and they are treating her.

  • Peter Galaxy1

    thanks for that. Turmeric is one hell of a fascinating spice. awesome colour and taste. they use it in some countries n weddings – or actually bucks party where the groom is covered head to toe by the relatives in a liquid turmeric paste!

  • Peter Galaxy1

    Anything that ‘gives’ you instant energy has to be putting high pressure on your organs in unnatural ways. You put a huge turbo on an ordinary engine and of course it will blow up.

  • Bob Zilla

    I had hepatitis C and was cured by Harvoni, all the while I was drinking energy drinks. I have one of these drinks sitting in front of me as I type. No where on the can does it say Vitamin B3 or Niacin. It contains B6,B12 and Vitamin C.

  • Paul Q4T-(John 8:32)

    Its time to place health labels on all packaged food products. Such as “Too much of anything is disastrous to your health”.

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