Using 5-hour ENERGY and Liver Problems

The brand-name energy drink called 5-hour ENERGY is concentrated into 1.93 fluid-oz. shots, which the company recommends taking in half or full doses depending on your energy needs. The drink contains phenylalanine -- which can cause a severe reaction in certain people when mixed with aspartame -- as well as high levels of B vitamins. According to the company's website, the dosage in 5-hour ENERGY remains safe when no more than two shots are consumed daily, several hours apart.

5 hour energy drinks in a store. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Ingredients and Safe Doses

A full bottle of 5-hour ENERGY contains 30 mg of niacin, which is 150 percent of the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA; 40 mg of vitamin B-6; and 500 mcg of vitamin B-12. The amounts of B-6 and B-12 are 2000 percent and 8333 percent of their RDAs, respectively. The 30-mg dosage of niacin is enough to trigger a "niacin flush," in which the skin becomes hot, red and prickly after ingestion. The high levels of vitamins B-6 and B-12 could contribute to the severity of stomach ulcers, alter blood sugar or insulin levels, change your body's uric acid concentrations and possibly contribute to liver toxicity over prolonged use, according to Vanderbilt University.

Long-term Effects of Regular Consumption

In 2010, the United States poison control centers gave energy drinks their own reporting code, allowing the tracking of poisonings or overdose caused specifically by their consumption. This move allowed the collection of data, which could then be studied and used to identify some of the serious side effects of regular energy-drink use. Many serious side effects were studied, including liver damage and kidney failure. Germaine data collected on incidents since 2002 showed a link between these concerns and the high levels of caffeine in energy drinks. Many brands, including 5-hour ENERGY, have offered caffeine-free products, which curb this concern. However, the reduction or removal of caffeine alone may not be sufficient to spare your liver, as other ingredients may also pose a threat.

High Vitamin Levels and Toxicity

In writing for "The Eclectic Physician," Dr. Beth Burch notes some concerns over the levels of vitamin B-6 in 5-hour ENERGY. While the company claims that the 80-mg dose you receive when taking two shots daily is safe for consumption, other dietary sources of vitamin B-6 could push your consumption level well above safe limits. Cases of toxicity have been reported in subjects who regularly consumed 150 mg per day, and Dr. Burch noted that the maximum safe dose for this vitamin is 100 mg daily. Niacin also carries a risk of liver toxicity, albeit at doses over 30 times higher than that contained in a single shot of 5-hour ENERGY.

How to Avoid Unsafe B-vitamin Doses

Check your other dietary sources before developing long-term habits that could lead to overdose and toxicity, especially if you take a multivitamin or your diet is already high in these vitamins. If your total daily intake of vitamin B-6 is already above 60 mg, or if you have large sources of niacin in your diet, avoid using 5-hour ENERGY or any other supplement that may push you over the safe limit. If you are unsure of your current dietary intake, or you have additional concerns over the safety of this drink, check with your healthcare provider for more information.

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