Study: Too many energy drinks led to case of hepatitis

WASHINGTON — Warnings against drinking too many energy drinks aren’t new, but a recent case illustrates what doctors are calling a new danger: Doctors say a man’s overconsumption of energy drinks led to a case of acute hepatitis.

The case was reported in the journal BMJ Case Reports by a team led by Dr. Jennifer Nicole Harb, of the University of Florida College of Medicine. A 50-year-old man went to the emergency room with signs of liver problems: malaise, anorexia, abdominal pain, nausea, dark urine and more.

Doctors performed a biopsy, which revealed acute hepatitis, as well as evidence of an infection with hepatitis C, though doctors didn’t think that had anything to do with his problem.

The man said he hadn’t had any changes in diet or alcohol consumption, wasn’t taking any medication or illicit drugs and had no family history of liver disease. He did, however, say he had been drinking four to five energy drinks a day for three weeks, in order to keep up with his workload as a construction worker.

He eventually recovered, but doctors determined that the niacin (vitamin B3) in the energy drinks were the cause of his problems. Each bottle of the energy drink the worker was using had about 40 milligrams of niacin, twice the recommended daily dosage, which meant that he was getting 8 to 10 times the recommended dosage daily — for three weeks.

The report says one other similar case has been reported, and that “appreciation of this underrecognized phenomenon … will decrease prevalence and potentially fatal delays in discontinuation” of energy drinks, and/or niacin, if they’re causing such problems.

“Unfortunately, an increasing number of Americans consume herbal supplements and energy drinks on a daily basis, with the misconception that their ‘natural ingredients’ must render them harmless,” the report read, adding that about 23,000 emergency-room visits per year are related to energy-drink consumption.

Medical News Today reports that the main concerns over energy drinks have been related to sugar and caffeine.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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