A controversial study, concerning the potential risks of a popular “energy” drink, was released this week. In the light of his research, Scott Willoughby, lead researcher from the Cardiovascular Research Centre at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, suggested even young people “think twice about drinking Red Bull”.
The team examined the blood of thirty healthy, young adult volunteers one hour before and one hour after consuming a can of Red Bull (250 mls, sugar-free). They found significant blood related abnormalities in the samples of the subjects after drinking the beverage.
After consuming the drink their blood basically became stickier, a precursor to forming clots that may lead to a stroke or heart attack. While the product contains 80 mg of caffeine (similar to a cup of coffee), there is a long list of natural and artificial ingredients including sodium citrates, carbon dioxide, taurine, glucuronolactone, acesulfame K, aspartame and caramel colouring. Naturopathically speaking, any one of these substances is questionable as far as possible unwanted side effects are concerned.
However there are many limitations to the study and it raises more questions than it answers. It would be useful to see a follow up study that considers the following:
* Use a larger sample size: In research terms the amount of subjects is considered small and statistically questionable.
* Note any gender differences: men and women can metabolize substances differently and therefore affect study outcomes. Fair gender inclusion is an ongoing issue in Australian human medical studies.
* Double blind, placebo controlled – plus coffee: admittedly it would be very difficult to placebo this trial due to the unique taste and smell. However it would be interesting to observe Red Bull against a cup of black coffee containing the same amount of caffeine. This would clarify if caffeine is the culprit or the combination of ingredients in Red Bull.
* What happens if you increase the dosage: If you drink more than one can, what are the haematological effects?
* To keep drawing bloods to see when the stickiness resolves: How long does it take for the blood to return to normal?
The take home message
This is a small study but raises some valid concerns. In particular, regardless of age – if you have high blood pressure or a strong family history of heart disease or strokes, if you smoke or are on the oral contraceptive pill (other risk factors for blood clots) – I’d avoid drinking this product and ones like it until further studies have been done.
News alert via Reuters