Energy Drinks and Hospitalizations Checklist: How to Ask The Right Questions

It’s happened again: someone was admitted to the hospital after consuming an energy drink. Reporters covering the story warn readers about the dangers of energy drinks…something is missing. In this post, I’ll review real headlines about energy drink to demonstrate how the omission of a few minor details hurts consumers, as well as the scientists who study energy drinks.

If you read a news story about someone being hospitalized because of a vegetable, you’d have some questions.

On the surface, the mere idea sounds ridiculous.

“Hospitalized…because of a VEGETABLE? People eat veggies all the time without dying, why would someone go to the hospital?”

In fact, leafy green vegetables were the number one source of foodborne illnesses from 1998-2008. Moreover, this hypothetical news story is a perfect example of how asking the right questions can save lives.

When someone is hospitalized because of a vegetable, scientists and doctors are able to piece together the clues and figure out whether or not to issue a recall, if so, what food and even what brand and lot numbers. The end result is information which saves people from eating something that could hurt them. If only we could do the same thing for energy drinks.
(Hint: we are not)

When it comes to energy drink-related hospitalizations, we are not asking the right questions. There are several examples of real energy drink news stories where small but critical details were omitted. Not only does this hurt consumers, but it also hurts scientists who desperately need this data to study the health effects of energy drinks.

The good news is these missing critical details can be summed up in just five questions.
Yes, just FIVE QUESTIONS!
Let me walk you through these five questions and why they matter so much, using real news stories about energy drink-related hospitalizations.

Have we met? I’m Danielle, the “GreenEyedGuide”.
I started studying biochemistry in college the same year Monster Energy hit US markets. Ever since, I’ve put my education to use studying the science behind caffeine and energy drinks. I’ve always been disappointed with the black-and-white “Energy Drinks Will Kill You” messaging because the science is a lot more complex…after all, how can coffee be so good and other forms of caffeine be so bad? My goal is and always has been to answer questions about these controversial energy drinks using the latest research so people can decide what’s right for them based on facts, not fear.
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Open letter to Time regarding energy drink article in “The Answer Issue”

Greetings Ms. Nancy Gibbs and Time Staff,

Normally, I find Time Magazine articles engaging and insightful but the article “Energy drinks have doctors worried—but business is booming” by Ms. Alexandra Sifferlin was severely disappointing.

Did you know that the top-selling energy drink has less caffeine and less sugar per serving than a tall mocha from Starbucks? The Issue Contents page features the question, “Should your kid drink Red Bull”, but Original Red Bull has 80 mg caffeine, 27 g sugar in 8.46 fl oz can versus the 90 mg caffeine, 35 g sugar in tall (12 oz) cafe mocha. This is not to say Red Bull is without its hazards. In fact, the biggest hazard with Red Bull is the alarming frequency with which this drink is mixed with alcohol! Unfortunately, the dangerous combination of alcohol and energy drinks was completely omitted from this article. Read more