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.