Teens: Energy Drink a Day May Not Give You Wings

Within one to two hours after consuming a Red Bull, or other energy drinks like it, that statement certainly seems to ring true. Studies have shown that alertness and cognitive functioning receive a temporary jolt. But what about habitual use of energy drinks? Well, that's less studied, especially among adolescents.

Editor's Note: This article was provided by our partner, RealClearScience. The original is here.


Red Bull gives you wings. Everybody knows that!

Within one to two hours after consuming a Red Bull, or other energy drinks like it, that statement certainly seems to ring true. Studies have shown that alertness and cognitive functioning receive a temporary jolt.

But what about habitual use of energy drinks? Well, that's less studied, especially among adolescents.

Filling the void is a study just published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Researchers from VU University in Amsterdam surveyed 509 teenagers with an average age of 13 about their use of caffeine and energy drinks. They also had the teens and their parents separately take an in-depth, often used test to assess any behavioral issues the subjects might have, their cognitive abilities, and their quality of sleep. From the test, the researchers formed two indices: the Behavior Regulation Index (BRI) and the Metacognition Index (MI).

"The BRI represents the ability to shift cognitive set and modulate behavior and emotions, whereas the MI represents the ability to plan, organize, initiate, and hold information in mind for future-oriented problem solving," the researchers explained.

6% of teens in the study reported consuming more than one energy drink per day. Those who reported consuming energy drinks at that rate scored slightly higher than average on both the BRI and the MI, indicating more problems with metacognitive skills and behavioral regulation. Caffeine use from other drinks was not associated with any behavioral or metacognitive deficits.

Let's get skeptical. The use of self-reported data was both a plus and a minus. While it grants the study real-world validity, self-reporting is notoriously inaccurate because people aren't very good at remembering what they eat our drink. Moreover, the researchers weren't able to directly measure how much caffeine the teens were drinking. The sample size of over 500 could have offset some inaccuracies, but it would have been nice to have it larger for a study like this. And of course, the study was correlational, so no causative links can be confirmed.

"It is possible that young adolescents that tend to consume caffeine and 3 EDs may do so because of their - already - compromised executive functions," the researchers admit.

The current study isn't perfect by any means, but it is a decent initial attempt to examine the effects of energy drinks on adolescents' cognitive function. More research on the matter is certainly warranted. Between 30 and 50% of adolescents and young adults consume energy drinks, and the effects of their habitual use on teens over prolonged periods is essentially unstudied. Remember, caffeine is a psychoactive substance, and since energy drinks are considered dietary supplements, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the amount of the drug that can be added to them. Occasionally consuming an energy drink is of no concern, but drinking one or two a day may very well give rise to unintended consequences for a developing brain.

Source: Tamara V. Batenburg-Eddes, Nikki C. Lee, Wouter D. Weeda, Lydia Krabbendam and Mariette Huizinga. "The potential adverse effect of energy drinks on executive functions in early adolescence." Frontiers in Psychology. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00457

Cambridge scientists create a successful "vaccine" against fake news

A large new study uses an online game to inoculate people against fake news.

University of Cambridge
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Researchers from the University of Cambridge use an online game to inoculate people against fake news.
  • The study sample included 15,000 players.
  • The scientists hope to use such tactics to protect whole societies against disinformation.
Keep reading Show less

Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

5 facts you should know about the world’s refugees

Many governments do not report, or misreport, the numbers of refugees who enter their country.

David McNew/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

Conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations led to a record high of 70.8 million people being displaced by the end of 2018.

Keep reading Show less