Dec. 30, 2006 -- That midnight kiss on New Year's Eve may not have been the only thing that took your breath away. Those who celebrated the night with a few drinks may, next time, think twice about what they order once they hear about the health risks associated with mixing alcoholic beverages with energy drinks.
Popular energy drinks such as Red Bull, Full Throttle, Rockstar and Monster are a common choice of "mixers" for alcoholic beverages, but may pose health risks. And that's no bull.
"You can hinder your respiration," said Roger A. Clemens, of the University of Southern California's School of Pharmacy. "From a public health perspective, you should not mix stimulants with alcohol."
"When you combine those two together, you always have a risk," he said. According to Clemens, some major concerns with mixing these two drinks include, but are not limited to, cardiovascular risk, impaired judgment, shortness of breath, dizziness, disorientation and rapid heart beat.
"A rapid heart rate is a common side effect. [And] with a not-so-healthy heart, can be life threatening," Clemens added. It is not recommended to mix caffeine with alcohol, he said.
Clemens also explained how mixing high levels of caffeine with alcoholic beverages can be dangerous for your body. "Based on what I've seen, I think it's a growing trend," he said. "For some young people, it's a form of expression. We are looking at another generation that is looking for a form of expression and experiments with over-the-counter products."
Stocking Up On Energy Drinks
Julie B., a 27-year-old from Los Angeles, said she first experienced alcohol and Red Bull in Thailand. "It's the perfect drink because you get drunk, but you have a lot of energy," she said. "You just can't have too much. I have just one Red Bull a night. It's a drink of choice."
Adriana Alvarez, a 22-year-old California State University student, said she first heard of mixing Red Bull and vodka through word-of-mouth. "It's gives me a quick buzz."
Red Bull's Web site claims the product, "supplies tired minds and exhausted bodies with vital substances that have been lost, while reducing harmful substances. It provides immediate energy and vitamins."
These days, many teens and young adults choose to stock up on energy drinks such as Red Bull to keep them energized throughout the day and night. According to a Simmons Research poll, 31 percent of U.S. teens -- approximately 7.6 million -- said they consume energy drinks. On average, they consumed 5.3 glasses in the past 30 days.
College students, on the other hand, consumed 5.6 glasses in the past 30 days.
The Caffeine Story
An 8.3-ounce can of Red Bull contains 80 milligrams of caffeine, about the same amount of caffeine as in a cup of coffee. By comparison, Coca-Cola contains about 34 milligrams of caffeine per 12 ounces. Full Throttle energy drink contains 144 milligrams of caffeine per 16-ounce serving, while 16 ounces of Rockstar contain 150 milligrams of caffeine.
For a healthy adult, 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine a day is considered a moderate amount, according to the American Dietetic Association.
According to the Red Bull Web site, "Generally, you can compare its digestibility with that of coffee, and this is a good guide to the amount you can drink. It is recommended that the daily consumption…of Red Bull energy drink, should conform to a person's intake of caffeine, and this varies from person to person. The caffeine in one can of Red Bull equals that of one cup of filtered coffee."
Some think the dangers of combining energy drinks with alcohol don't pose such a great threat.
"It seems to be an urban legend," said Kevin Weissman, director of drug information at the LAC-USC Medical Center in California. "It could happen, but it's a long shot," he said.
However, Weissman suggested that those who combine energy drinks with alcohol should have greater concerns to worry about. "They should be more concerned over the impairment in their judgment. It may impair [their] reality and cause the person to think they are less drunk because they are more awake."
A Brazilian study found that college students didn't perceive themselves to be as intoxicated as they really were. The study indicated that drinking alcohol and Red Bull together significantly reduces the perception of headache, weakness, dry mouth and impairment of motor coordination.
The study also found that people who combine alcohol with energy drinks may be at even greater risk for problems such as automobile accidents because they believe they are unimpaired.
The popular myth-killing Web site Snopes.com dismisses every notion that Red Bull has been linked to deaths in Sweden and Ireland. The Web site addresses false claims that Red Bull contains a banned substance that has been previously linked to brain tumors.
Unregulated By the FDA
After Red Bull sparked some controversy regarding the deaths of three people, the Swedish National Food Administration advised consumers not to mix the drink with alcohol or consume it after exercise. France and Denmark have banned the drink.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not categorized energy drinks. The FDA can't prevent products from coming out, but can remove products from store shelves if they're found to be harmful to the consumers.
"Generally, manufacturers do not need to register their products with the FDA nor get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements," FDA spokesperson Mike Herndon wrote in an e-mail.
Because energy drinks are considered dietary supplements, they're not strictly regulated by the FDA. "FDA regulates dietary supplements under a different set of regulations than those covering 'conventional' foods and drug products," according to Herndon. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, Herndon added, the dietary supplement manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that a product is safe before it is marketed.
In 2005, 2.5 billion cans of Red Bull were consumed worldwide, according to an e-mail from Patrice Radden, director of corporate communications for Red Bull. "Red Bull has been on the market for 19 years and is now sold in more than 130 countries," she said.
"There are no dangers or drawbacks associated with the consumption of Red Bull," Radden explained. "Red Bull is a great alternative to booze for the designated driver or for those who wish to consume a non-alcoholic beverage this holiday season," she wrote. "We've done a lot of research on our product and don't feel warning labels are necessary -- we are confident in the safety of our product."
According to Radden, health authorities in more than 70 countries, including Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have concluded, through clinical data, clinical tests and toxicological evaluations that Red Bull is safe to consume.
"We do not promote Red Bull energy drink as a mixer with alcohol as this might impair the positive effects of [the drink] as advertised," Radden wrote. "There is no reason why Red Bull…should not, like any other drink, be mixed with alcohol as long as people do not underestimate that alcohol consumption might impair their mental and physical activities."
Bartenders serve the popular Red Bull and vodka combination, coined the "Friday Flattener" and "Dirty Pompadour" in some places and the "Eye-opener" or a "Klenfield" in others.
Red Bull seems to be the mixer of choice because of its appealing taste. "The issue is that Red Bull has a different flavor profile compared to coffee," said Clemens. "The flavor is much more enticing," he said.