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Red Bull Won't Boost Alcohol Buzz

Any Mood Boost Is Likely Wishful Thinking, Study Shows
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WebMD Health News

Energy drinks like Red Bull -- which contain caffeine and other stimulants -- have gained popularity in recent years. A handful of studies have fueled a theory that energy drinks can delay the depressive effects of alcohol.

But the drinks don't contain enough caffeine to do that, writes researcher Maria Lucia O. Souza Formigoni, PhD, a psychobiologist with the Federal University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.

Her report, which appears in the latest issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, set out to dispel that urban myth.

"In Brazil, as in other countries, the use of 'energy drinks' such as Red Bull is relatively common in bars and night clubs," says Formigoni in a news release. "Many young people use them mixed with vodka, whisky, and other spirits." The combination may give people the sensation of less alcohol effects. But their driving judgment will be comprised.

In fact, Formigoni has surveyed people in nightclubs -- asking whether they mixed energy drinks with alcohol, why, and what effects they noticed. Three-quarters of the clubbers cited "increasing the alcohol stimulant effects" as their reason. The main effects were happiness, euphoria, extroversion, and increased vigor.

In her current study, Formigoni tested 14 healthy male volunteers; in four sessions, each one week apart, they got a different drink -- either water, an alcoholic drink, an energy drink, or alcohol plus an energy drink. Then, they jumped on a bicycle to test their performance. Their blood was also tested for mood hormones and other changes.

When all this was factored together, it was curtains for the Red Bull-and-alcohol myth. At various points in the test, heart rate was significantly faster and adrenaline levels were higher, she notes. However, researchers found no performance or mood-boosting effects.

There is some evidence that energy drinks can reduce anxiety or tremors before competition, she notes. However, the effect on performance and delay in recovery work against that positive effect.

The boost that partiers feel may simply be wishful thinking -- a placebo effect, she writes.

"Young people should ... be careful when using these drinks together until more evidence is available," she writes.

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