The Hidden Cost of Energy Drinks: They Poisoned Me

Bottles of poison

Energy drinks have been a part of Coder culture since Jolt hit the shelves a year after the MacIntosh did (or maybe longer). But to go along with the increased energy, I found out the hard way that there is a very real and nasty downside… being slowly poisoned.

In mid-April, I found myself numb from my foot to my ribcage along my left side, then a little in the arm, and some in my left cheek and the left side of my tongue. I thought I must be having a stroke or a heart attack. I got a neighbor to watch the kids and called 911. The paramedics evaluated me and didn’t see signs of either stroke or heart attack, but such widespread numbness had them convinced it could be emergent, so we took a ride to the Emergency Room.

Over the next 7 hours, I had a bunch of blood drawn, spent nearly three hours cramped up inside an MRI tube, and at the end of it all, all they had figured out was that it was nothing worth keeping me for. The MRI showed I’d gone from having one bulging disc to two, and besides that I had “paresthesia,” which is basically a catch-all name for unexplainable skin sensations.

I followed up with my doctor, got prescribed a few physical therapy sessions for the disc and made an appointment with the neurology specialist who takes a while to get in to see.

Break to six weeks later, the physical therapy has done good things for my back, my numbness is *mostly* cleared up (a little around the knee and a spot on the belly), and I see the neurologist. She does a workup, goes through my meds and supplements, then asks “do you drink energy drinks?”

It has long been my practice to wash down my combo of old-man meds and morning supplements with a Costco Energy Shot (their generic version of 5 Hour Energy). Then as my “second cup of coffee,” I’d layer a RockStar Pure Zero over that. When I told her that, she said “let’s get your vitamin B6 levels tested.”

Those energy shots give you 2000% your daily B6 requirement. The US Recommended Daily Allowance of B6 is 2mg. Between the shot, a multivitamin, and my Rockstar, I was getting 46 mg by 10 a.m., pretty much every damn day. When the tests came back, my score was 3x the high-end of “normal.” And what is a symptom of vitamin B6 toxicity? Paresthesia.

I’ve switched to cold brew coffee with coconut milk to get my caffeine in the morning, and am experimenting with the brew for flavor, but I’m not tinkering with megadoses of vitamins. It’ll take 3 months to get my B6 numbers back into the normal range and the poisoning may have done some permanent damage to my nerves. But I wasn’t drinking more than the label said was safe.

My message to young coders is this. These energy drinks are a great way to perk yourself up during a particularly brutal crunch or competitive hackathon. They are ways to self-medicate for performance, endurance, and stamina. But if you make them a daily habit, your body may not be able to recover from being so consistently overloaded.

20 Replies to “The Hidden Cost of Energy Drinks: They Poisoned Me”

  1. They’re not the healthiest thing out there, but it does say on every can that you shouldn’t drink more than 1 energy drink per day.

    You’re also supposed to drink a lot of water so that your body can wash out the extra vitamins and electrolytes. Otherwise you can get kidney stones and, apparently, what you got.

  2. Tea and Coffee Are Contributing Factors—”Through the intemperance begun at home, the digestive organs first become weakened, and soon ordinary food does not satisfy the appetite. Unhealthy conditions are established, and there is a craving for more stimulating food. Tea and coffee produce an immediate effect. Under the influence of these poisons the nervous system is excited; and in some cases, for the time being, the intellect seems to be invigorated, the imagination more vivid. Because these stimulants produce such agreeable results, many conclude that they really need them; but there is always a reaction. The nervous system has borrowed power from its future resources for present use, and all this temporary invigoration is followed by a corresponding depression. The suddenness of the relief obtained from tea and coffee is an evidence that what seems to be strength is only nervous excitement, and consequently must be an injury to the system.”

  3. Stop depending on popping pills for your vitamins. Eat a healthy diet, stick to the coffee in moderation and you will feel a whole lot better. The vitamins in a bottle are a waste of money and will always do more harm than good.

    • You cannot eat enough to get all the vitamins and minerals in our diet today. You would need to eat almost 5,000 calories and include all fruits and vegetables grown locally and in soil that was not deficient. Also, the toxicity level of B6 is over 100 mg per day. Not sure if all of this actually adds up.

  4. anonymouse comment on redditttt

    not med advice, If it wuz me
    1.)genetics – i.e. for asians lactase enzyme
    deficient, but plenty drinking milk, icrecream. could be ‘red flag’
    2.)weak liver – hepatitis? so co-risk factors like drinking alcohol or plenty
    fake fast food?

    3.)skin sensations? unknown etiology. strange new terms in new medical dictionary?
    quote: from medscape 10 cans/day minim dose

    this could be an alarm – who knows?
    “peripheral neurophy … impairment of
    position senses” waaat does this mean?
    easier to get dizzy and fall down?

    • FYI, one Kirkland Signature Energy Shot (or 5 Hour Energy) has the B6 of 10 cans of Rockstar Pure Zero. Rockstar – 200% per 16 oz can. Kirkland – 2,000% per 2 oz bottle. Multivitamin 1/2 can.

  5. I recently came to the same realization about B vitamins and energy drinks, but not because I had symptoms of vitamin B toxicity. I found studies that suggest an overdose of B vitamins increase a person’s appetite for junk food. B vitamins are also added in large amounts in American wheat an ‘fortification’.

    Long story short, I started making my own bread using unfortified flour and stopped drinking energy drinks. As a small test, I replaced the energy drinks with Mountain Dew instead. The end result: it’s a month later, my appetite has shrunk and I’ve lost 20 lbs.

    I still drink soda, but I find I can’t drink an entire 2 liter a day like I used to. I have plans to cut it out anyway, for the sake of my teeth, but it’s a curious result considering I used to think sugar was the root cause of most obesity in the USA. I now know differently.

  6. Energy drinks can be enjoyed several times a month but not everyday. The only food which has no overdose rating is the green leafy plants such as lettuce, kale, parsley, etc.

  7. PS. old males, etc. would like an open compete for 24 hours at my standing desk
    or 5 hr or 32 hours?
    not personal invite – only thru red dhit
    the stereotype of old coder cant remember
    blasted shorted term memory vs. ADD attention
    deficit of young vs ???
    like Einstein said about looking up his
    phone number in the phone book. why should
    I remember something obvious?
    effectiveness does NOT equal efficiency.
    — free cold brew coffee at the ‘free company kitchen’ 10 to 15 cups per day,
    like expresso. a test of masochism or
    the Scoville hot pepper tests (i like it
    but not breathing for 10 seconds is a bit

    old style company kitchen coffee brewer.
    double bag means standard coffee pouch.
    perk it. Use the brew for 2nd and 3rd pass
    through new grounds. use thick coffee substitute for ‘water added’ try to neutralize acidity. ‘free expresso’

    1.)be in top physical conditioning. that’s
    burpees, 40 pullups, etc.
    2.)vegetarian and even ‘raw’ avoiding the
    toxics buildups
    3.)vitamins and ‘trace elements’ requires
    4 year study – almost as bad as college 4 year degree.
    5.)TV has been off for at least 3 to 5 years; that’s a bit extreme, but C++ is
    12.)I still don’t get the top coder algorithms, but thats OK. this is like
    ‘tough mudder’; lot of real world is using
    google to find stupid code errors.

    this is like zsh last man standing enduro
    100 miler. think 3 times before entering
    with a ‘bad back’

    PS. one year pilates plus yoga study plus
    nutrition plus ?? may cure it perhaps.

    the standing, moving desk

  8. I had the same problems, exactly as you described, but I did not drink energy coctails. The cause was:
    1. Being very tired, I coded all days.
    2. Coffee, somehow it makes me fill numbness exactly on the left side as you have.

    It took me two years of rest (no more than 9 hours of coding a day) to get back to normal life.

  9. It’s not just energy drinks, it’s vitamins as well. Many multivitamins have 40mg of b6 in them. When someone picks up a multivitamin, they assume it is safe to take. They aren’t though. It’s not the fact that someone was drinking an energy drink. It’s the fact that they added 40mg of b6 for absolutely no reason to it. Tons of people are becoming toxic on all these drinks and foods that have b6 added. It’s becoming way too common. Marketing execs add b6 to everything, even peanut butter, solely for the enticement of better health to the unknowing consumer. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of what is happening. European Upper Limit is 25mg a day, yet you will find that amount in the US easily in a variety of vitamins, protein shakes, melatonin tabs, drinks, and foods. B6 is dangerous and there should be regulation on the ability of companies to fortify their foods and drinks with it.

    • People will think about b6 more whwn it happens to them. Also, Goodluck getting help when it does because drs don’t know a thing about vitamins and nutrients.

  10. Who, on their good mind, drink one energy drink per day and think they would stay healthy? Those cool hacking skills didnt teach you how to google? You can live without caffeine too. Get over it.

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