We’ve all perused the brightly colored energy drink aisle at the gas station or local grocery store. It’s alluring. It’s omnipresent. And sometimes it seems like a good alternative to tea and coffee for your caffeine fix.
Energy drinks on their own are, at best, disruptive to healthy liver function. And adding alcohol to the mix makes for a highly toxic combo that could lead to more chronic and serious liver issues.
The Most Important Organ
Whether it’s filtering toxins out of the blood, fighting infection, aiding digestion, or regulating blood sugar, hormones, and cholesterol levels, the responsibilities of the liver cannot be understated.
What’s becoming hard to ignore is the strong connection between alcohol and fatty liver disease.
Fatty liver disease starts with fat buildup in the liver that compromises its ability to do its job.
The symptoms of liver disease can manifest in many areas of the body, but the most common are:
- Upset stomach
- Loss of appetite
- Yellowing of the eyes (jaundice)
- Blood in stool
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms you should consult your physician and know it’s never too late to start taking care of your liver.
The liver can regenerate and develop new cells, but prolonged alcohol abuse reduces its regenerative ability. For those already affected, or looking to prevent fatty liver disease, quitting or curbing drinking, smoking, and making other behavior and dietary changes may be one’s best treatment options.
Energy Drinks Are Dangerous
Without adding alcohol into the mix, energy drinks are already extremely dangerous.
The Mayo Clinic states on their website up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. That’s roughly the amount of caffeine in four cups of brewed coffee, 10 cans of cola or two “energy shot” drinks.
Did you read that last bit there?
To give a little more context, the 24-fluid ounce version of Rockstar contains 240mg of caffeine, making it very easy to exceed the recommended daily dose in 2-3 servings.
Too much caffeine in the body can cause:
- mood swings
- and trigger cardiovascular issues
But when consumed in moderation, it can protect against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Unfortunately, the amount of caffeine in energy drinks far exceeds most other caffeinated beverages.
Healthy Male Develops Liver Disease from Energy Drinks
In a case report published by The BMJ, a previously healthy male, age 50, began exhibiting fatty liver disease-like symptoms such as malaise, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, and dark urine. In his interview with his physician, the man revealed he had begun drinking 4-5 energy drinks per day starting roughly 3 weeks prior in order to keep his energy up while working his construction job. Tests revealed chronic hepatitis C infection, as well as severe acute hepatitis, and doctors determined that “development of acute hepatitis in this patient was likely secondary to excessive energy drink consumption.”
Granted the case report presents a very extreme instance of energy drink consumption, the connection between liver disease and energy drinks is clear. When combined with alcohol, it becomes a brutal cocktail for your liver to process.
A Fatal Combination
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “next to multivitamins, energy drinks are the most popular dietary supplement consumed by American teens and young adults.” That’s a pretty scary thought. They go on to say a quarter of college students regularly consume alcohol with energy drinks, and that this group binge-drinks significantly more often than the students who don’t mix alcohol and energy drinks.
So mixing energy drinks and alcohol leads to more alcohol and energy drinks. Simple and cyclical.
And with alcohol at the top of the list of difficult things for your liver to process, it’s not hard to understand how combining alcohol and energy drinks increases the effect of alcohol-induced fatty liver disease by increasing the likelihood of binge drinking.
Not only do the Dietary Guidelines for Americans warn against mixing alcohol and caffeine, The CDC also reports that “drinkers aged 15 to 23 who mix alcohol with energy drinks are four times more likely to binge drink at high intensity (i.e., consume six or more drinks per binge episode) than drinkers who do not mix alcohol with energy drinks.”
A Spike in Liver Deaths
According to Dr. Elliot Tapper, a Michigan Medicine liver health specialist, the dramatic spike in liver deaths resulting from cirrhosis, liver cancer and hepatitis C in young people may have psychological and socioeconomic ties to the Great Recession.
In a nutshell, the financial crisis stunted socioeconomic growth, making it difficult to find good jobs, start families and buy homes for young people. The reality of that situation has lead to an increase in alcohol consumption in the younger populations left to deal with the economic backlash.
And not only are young people drinking more alcohol in addition to consuming more energy drinks, but they also consume energy drinks as study aids and energy boosters in their careers. Some even do shots that combine spirits and energy drinks (for example, jaeger bombs). Young adults (and anyone doing this) need to know how this is seriously impacting their liver.
A Deadly Triad
Energy drinks are also high in sugar, creating a deadly triad between the added alcohol, high caffeine content, and high sugar content. Each of these ingredients put a tremendous strain on your liver.
Lee T. Austin, MD on behalf of Sanford Health reminds us that “sugar is made up of glucose and fructose and both are metabolized in the liver.” Excess sugar can trigger a domino effect of over and underproduction of hormones and compounds in the body. The end results can disrupt hormone levels and thus libido and sex drive. C
Consuming large amounts of sugar has also been shown to cause fatty liver disease in children.
With alcohol basically consisting of fermented sugar, the effect on your liver in processing it is very similar to glucose and fructose.
The Worst Thing You Can Do to Your Liver
If it’s not painfully clear already, combining energy drinks and alcohol is possibly the worst thing you can do for your liver. A mountain of research indicates high alcohol and/or sugar intake leads to chronic liver disease and a whole strew of health problems both physical and mental can manifest from abusing this deadly combo.
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678, Mayo Clinic, by Mayo Clinic Staff, Retrieved Dec 12, 2018
https://casereports.bmj.com/content/2016/bcr-2016-216612%20, The BMJ, “Rare cause of acute hepatitis: a common energy drink,” by Jennifer Nicole Harb, Zachary A Taylor, Vikas Khullar, Maryam Sattari, Retrieved on Dec 12, 2018
https://nccih.nih.gov/health/energy-drinks, National Center for Complementary and integrative Health, “Energy Drinks,” last modified July 26, 2018, Retrieved Dec 12, 2018
https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-9/, Health.gov, Dietary guidlines, 2015, Retrieved Dec 12, 2018
https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/caffeine-and-alcohol.htm, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Fact Sheets – Alcohol and Caffeine,” Retrieved Dec 12, 2018
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322506.php, Medical News Today, “Rapid increase in deaths due to alcohol-related liver disease,” By Maria Cohut, PublishedJuly 19, 2018, Retrieved Dec 12, 2018
https://www.sharecare.com/health/digestive-health/how-sugar-affects-the-liver, Sharecare, “How can eating too much sugar affect my liver?” Retrieved Dec 12, 2018