February 23, 2010

Energy drink blamed for teen's seizure

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JOPLIN, Mo. - There's a hole in Dakota Sailor's memory - a gap from the evening of Thursday, Feb. 4, until late afternoon on Saturday, Feb. 6.

The Carl Junction teen remembers going to school that Thursday, drinking two high-powered energy beverages, and later falling asleep on the couch in the living room.

He next remembers waking up in St. John's Regional Medical Center on Saturday when physicians removed him from a ventilator.

The 17-year-old junior - a defensive end and tackle for the Carl Junction High School football team - had no history of seizures, and a series of medical tests found no apparent cause for this one.

His mother, Monique Burrows, found him that Friday morning after hearing what she described as a strange "gurgling" noise. She said that she found her son on the couch, where he had aspirated and turned blue. She yelled for her husband, who performed CPR on Sailor until an ambulance arrived.

He spent five days in the hospital, Burrows said.

Doctors concluded that her son's seizure was likely triggered by the energy drinks he had consumed that evening.

"It was upsetting, and it's life-changing," Sailor said. "I never thought a drink could do something like that to somebody."

Since Red Bull was launched in 1997, energy drinks have become a multibillion dollar industry, with more than 500 new products launched in 2006 alone, according to Nutrition Journal.

Sailor was drinking NOS, a high-performance energy drink that is labeled an "energy supplement." NOS is short for "nitrous oxide," which can be used to boost speeds in race cars.

Each 16-ounce can contains two servings, and each serving contains 130 milligrams of caffeine; 1,000 mg of the organic acid taurine; 200 mg of the compound L-carnitine; 100 mg of inositol; and 50 mg of ginseng extract.

The back of the can warns that the drink is powerful and not recommended for children, pregnant women or people who are sensitive to caffeine.

Sailor consumed two full cans - four servings, with 520 mg of caffeine - in a short amount of time. This was on top of soda he had already consumed that day.

While it was the first time that Sailor had tried NOS, he said that he's enjoyed other energy drinks in the past - Red Bull, Monster, Full Throttle, he's tried just about all of them.

Ahmed Robbie, a neurologist with Freeman Health System, said it's entirely possible for a seizure to be caused by drinking too much of an energy beverage.

He said side effects from consuming too many energy drinks - or any high-caffeine product, for that matter - range from restlessness and headaches to tremors, confusion and seizures.

"It can even become fatal," said Robbie. "It can cause an irregular heartbeat and severe hypertension. There have been reported cases of death from caffeine toxicity.

"There's also an addiction problem. People who have a caffeine addiction have a tendency to drink more and more of it."

Robbie said that 80 to 250 mg of caffeine a day would be the range that he would consider safe. Side effects could begin to set in after more than 250 mg, and become more serious past 500 mg.

He said he believes that energy drinks should come with a more prominent warning label that mentions the serious side effects of ingesting too much caffeine and that it is not recommended to drink too many of them.

Even the American Academy of Neurology in recent years has been asking questions about possible links between new-onset seizures and the consumption of large amounts of energy drinks, but did not have enough data to draw conclusions.

A spokeswoman for Coca Cola North America, which markets NOS and other energy drinks such as Full Throttle and Monster, said she could not comment on Sailor's experience or whether the company had heard of any similar incident with the products.

Sailor, who is feeling better, began easing back into his routine at school last week.

Besides having to be on anti-seizure medication for the next year, he's not allowed to drive for six months, and he has to wear an oximeter at night to monitor his heartbeat and oxygen levels.

Sailor said that doctors advised him to limit the amount of soda he consumes and to stay away from energy drinks.

That's not going to be a problem, he said.

"I'm just trying to get the word out," he said. "They're not good for you."

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