Alcohol, Red Bull mix may lead to death

BY KYLENE KIANG
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 5, 2002

Fortified with high levels of caffeine and nutritional supplements, Red Bull energy drink has created a stir not only in college study circles, but in 20-something party scenes as well. With a reputation for mixing well with vodka, the drink that claims to "give you wings" may also be a contributing factor in several alcohol-related deaths.

Three deaths in Sweden last summer are believed to have been caused by the consumption of Red Bull. In one case, a woman consumed the drink with vodka shortly before dying from dehydration. Like alcohol, caffeine is a diuretic that promotes fluid loss.

Another man died after reportedly drinking three cans of Red Bull after a strenuous workout.

Sweden"s National Food Administration immediately began advising people not to consume Red Bull with alcohol, or as a thirst-quencher.

Red Bull manufacturers in Austria said in a written statement that no proof of death can be linked to Red Bull and they blame the deaths on the alcoholic part of the mixed drink.

Chris Szarek, an LSA senior and bartender at the Brown Jug, has been serving Red Bull to customers for about two years.

"They have a decent taste," Szarek said. "It"s something different and new and gives people the impression that they won"t tire out as quickly when they are drinking."

Partygoers say that it helps keep their stamina up longer into the night.

"There"s a little more work involved when you know people are drinking this. It takes an assertive bartender to know when to quit serving them," Szarek said, adding that the average person will have two to three mixed Red Bull drinks.

"It"s important to keep them in check so that no one has a liability on their hands," he added.

Dr. Anita Sandretto, interim director of the School of Public Health"s Human Nutrition Program, said that this "wide awake and drunk" effect may carry fatal consequences.

"A high level of caffeine is a tremendous "upper" or stimulant to the central nervous system, while alcohol is a "downer" or depressant. When high levels of these two are ingested together, the body doesn"t know what to do the two do not cross each other out to become neutral. The net result can be heart failure," Sandretto said.

Monica Ravelle, spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said the FDA has not issued warnings for Red Bull because problems with the product itself have not been proven.

"The greater problem we"ve seen is what the product is being combined with. The difficulty in this situation is whether we should question the (Red Bull) or the alcohol," Ravelle said.

Red Bull is classified as a drug in Norway, Denmark and France. In Japan, it was previously only available in pharmacies.

Possible health risks revealed overseas have in no way deterred students from using Red Bull.

"Our whole staff relies on it," said Matt Wattenbarger, bartender at Good Time Charley"s.

Although the restaurant does not serve Red Bull to its customers, there is a reserve of the energy drink behind the counter for staff use.

Rick Buhr, owner of Good Time Charley"s said the drink does not promote a healthy image for his restaurant.

"It just doesn"t fit in with what we do. It"s a high-sugar drink that, when mixed with alcohol, is meant to get people drunk faster and that"s not what we"re in the business of doing," Buhr said.