Study: Red Bull energy drink boosts memory performance

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New research suggests the Red Bull energy drink can temporarily boost some aspects of cognition.

The randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind study of 24 healthy volunteers found Red Bull had a positive effects upon memory performance. In particular, the study found significant improvements to the accuracy and speed of working and episodic memory 30 minutes after consuming the drink. However, this effect was not discovered for the sugar-free version of Red Bull.

The research was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Keith A. Wesnes of Wesnes Cognition Ltd. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Wesnes: It began in 1973 when I started my PhD research into the role of the brain cholinergic systems in human attention, and has been my day job ever since.  I rapidly realised that properly automated cognitive tests were the way forward for the field, and in the early 1980s developed the CDR System, an integrated set of computerized tests to assess changes in cognitive function in clinical trials. Since then the System has been used in over 1,400 worldwide clinical trials.

After selling the CDR System to a US company in 2009 (www.bracketglobal.com), I set up my own consultancy (www.wesnes.com). Recently we have developed CogTrackTM as there is a lack of on-line cognitive test systems available for clinical research. Besides the Red Bull study, we have just validated the System in a large online clinical sample of 14,531 individuals aged 50 to 96 years (Wesnes et al, 2017;  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/gps.4659/full).

Previous work over the last 15 years with the CDR System has established that various energy drinks produce beneficial effects on important aspects of everyday cognitive function. With colleagues at the Nu-Food Research Facility at Newcastle University, our interest was to determine the full profile of effects of Red Bull using our new online methodology.

What should the average person take away from your study?

The study demonstrated that Red Bull improved not only the ability to store and retrieve information in short and long term memory, but also the speed with which information can be retrieved. This was not seen with the sugar-free version, or the taste matched placebo drink. These effects occurred in healthy young volunteers for information learned 30 to 90 minutes after the drink. The size of the benefit was ‘clinically relevant’.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

While it appears the sugar content of Red Bull plays a major role in its beneficial effects on memory, it must be remembered there was no ‘sugar only’ condition, and thus the possibility remains that sugar, caffeine, and the other ingredients in Red Bull, work together somehow to produce these benefits.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

This is an important area considering the widespread consumption of energy drinks, and is worthy of future research. We are planning follow up studies.

The study, “Effects of the Red Bull energy drink on cognitive function and mood in healthy young volunteers“, was also co-authored by Helen Brooker, Anthony W Watson, Wendy Bal, and Edward Okello.



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