10 Scary Red Bull Facts Every College Student Know
August 23rd, 2011
Red Bull is a staple on college campuses. When you’re running short on time, but still have lots of work to complete, chances are, you’re going to supercharge your energy with coffee or an energy drink like Red Bull. But although this drink is approved for sale in the US, the long term effects of its use are not known. Even short term effects are not fully understood, but just one can has the potential to alter your health, albeit temporarily. There are plenty of rumors and accusations swirling around against Red Bull — even those so extreme they claim the active ingredient in Red Bull is a Vietnam-era Department of Defense chemical. Of course, not everything is true, but much of Red Bull’s bad rap does stem from actual events, research, and even deaths. Read on to find out 10 things you should know before you pick up your next can of Red Bull.
Red Bull may have triggered a fatal heart condition
After drinking four cans of Red Bull and various other caffeinated drinks, 21-year-old student Chloe Leach fell to the floor in a nightclub and died at the scene. She died of a rare heart condition, which may have been triggered by the excessive amount of caffeine she consumed. She had no illegal drugs in her system, and according to her mom, was typically careful in her caffeine consumption, only drinking Red Bull occasionally. This rare case is not likely to happen to most college students, but it does serve as a cautionary tale not to drink an excessive amount of energy drinks. It was unknown at the time of her death that a large amount of caffeine could trigger her heart condition.
Red Bull Cola once contained cocaine
In April and June 2009, batches of Red Bull Cola were found to contain cocaine, sparking bans from Taiwan and most states in Germany. However, this scary fact is made less scary when you note that it was between 0.1-0.3 micrograms per litre. Even with a low tolerance per can, a person would have to consume 2 million cans at once before becoming seriously ill from cocaine in the drink. Red Bull uses the extract of coca leaves for flavoring, but insists that they’re only used after removing the cocaine alkaloid, which, according to Bolivian coca growers, is completely unnecessary for safety. Some may recall that Coca-Cola’s original formula included coca leaves.
Red Bull contains lots of sodium
Most people realize that Red Bull has lots of harmful sugars. But sodium may not be as obvious, and although there’s a sugar-free Red Bull option, there’s not yet one with a low sodium option. In one small can, Red Bull packs 9% of your sodium for the day. Have more than one, and you’re nearing 20%. Although sodium is good for those working out, students downing Red Bulls to power through late nights probably aren’t sweating enough to need sodium replacement from a drink. The CDC reports that 90% of the people in the US get too much sodium, raising our risk of high blood pressure, and in turn, our risk for heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems.
Mixing Red Bull with alcohol can be dangerous and deadly
Red Bull cocktails can lead to impulsive, risky behavior, according to a study at Northern Kentucky University. Those who mix alcohol and Red Bull may feel more awake and alert, not really aware of their level of intoxication. You may drink more than you normally would, and make poor decisions as a result. A pre-mixed alcoholic energy drink, Four Loko, was banned after several hospitalizations and even college student deaths of those who drank the concoction to become "wide awake drunk."
Red Bull raises your risk for heart attack and stroke
After drinking just one can of Red Bull, your risk for heart attack or stroke rises, even in young people. An Australian study found that Red Bull makes blood "sticky," with abnormal blood systems similar to patients with cardiovascular disease. Researchers caution against drinking Red Bull for those that may be suffering from stress or high blood pressure. Researcher Scott Willoughby recommends, "if you have any predisposition to cardiovascular disease, I’d think twice about drinking it."
Red Bull has been linked to kidney failure
In Sweden, Red Bull was investigated in the deaths of three young people believed to have consumed the drink. Two of them used Red Bull as a mixer, which is commonly believed to be dangerous, but one of them drank several Red Bulls after a hard workout and died of kidney failure. This prompted officials in Greece to recommend that the drink not be consumed after strenuous exercise, and France, Denmark, and Norway only allow Red Bull to be sold in pharmacies. Although there is no conclusive evidence, scientists do have their suspicions that Red Bull in large amounts can harm your kidneys, and clearly, officials have acted to reduce the risk if it is in fact true.
Red Bull can slow water absorption
Although Red Bull "vitalizes body and mind," it’s not good for exercise, and can keep you from absorbing water due to high levels of caffeine and sugar. Most people already don’t get enough water, especially while consuming Red Bull and other types of drinks. Drinking a Red Bull instead of water could further exacerbate a water deficiency. Red Bull’s representative Kim Peterson shares that the drink is definitely "not a ‘thirst quencher’ or fluid replenishment drink." So if you’re going to drink Red Bull, be sure to keep an eye on your water intake as well.
Red Bull can cause behavior problems
A Catholic high school in Britain had to ban Red Bull after several students exhibited changed behavior, and not for the better. Students became hyperactive, noisier, stopped responding to instructions, and began arriving to school later than they should. Although college students may be responsible enough to avoid such negative actions after drinking Red Bull, there’s no guarantee the drink won’t make you more impetuous and irresponsible.
Drinking too much Red Bull can make your heart stop
After drinking a large amount of Red Bull (approximately eight cans in five hours) a motocross competitor, Matthew Penbross, collapsed in 2007. His heart had stopped, and he needed defibrillation to be revived. At 28 years old and in "peak condition," his only other risk factor for a heart attack was smoking. He regularly drank four Red Bulls each day instead of eating, although labels warn against drinking more than two cans a day. The cardiologist who treated Penbross believes that "excessive consumption of energy drinks had precipitated the heart attack." Excessive consumption of Red Bull certainly seems to be dangerous, and should be avoided even on an occasional basis.
Caffeine intoxication can happen, and it’s scary
Red Bull packs a serious punch of caffeine, and too much can cause serious health problems. There is such a thing as caffeine intoxication, which can include tremors, anxiety, restlessness, rapid heartbeats, and sometimes even death. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University believe that Red Bull and other high-caffeine energy drinks should carry warning labels to alert users to their levels of caffeine content.