The recent headline-making story of an English woman who claims she is going blind from overconsumption of Red Bull seems almost too absurd to be true. But is there any basis in reality for her claims? Can drinking too much Red Bull really make you go blind?
Let’s take a look at what is being claimed. According to the press, a 26-year-old woman in Newtownabbey in County Antrim, Northern Ireland is going blind due to the condition idiopathic intracranial hypertension, (also known as pseudotumor cerebri) which is a condition where the brain starts to swell due to an excess of cerebrospinal fluid. It most commonly occurs in women of childbearing age who are obese. The woman in question is severely obese, weighing 165 kg., or 363 lbs. She claims her obesity is due to her Red Bull addiction. According to the articles, she claims to have drank 28 cans of Red Bull a day – a mind-bogglingly huge seven liters of fluid. The only thing that can cure the condition is surgery, but doctors say they will not operate until she loses at least 50 kilograms, or 110 pounds. She is no longer drinking red bull and has lost 28 pounds already.
Is there something special about the Red Bull that made her exceptionally vulnerable to her condition? While her symptoms certainly match those of idiopathic intracranial hypertension, there’s nothing in the average can of Red Bull that would make her more likely to develop it. Neither caffeine or sugar, both things Red Bull has in abundance, are associated with idiopathic intracranial hypertension. What is obesity, and 28 cans of Red Bull provide 3,000 calories a day. Her condition is most likely a result of obesity, and only the caloric density of the Red Bull she was drinking is its effect. So, while she is potentially going blind, and did drink great amounts of Red Bull, anything she consumed in that quantity would contribute. She is not going blind directly from the Red Bull itself. The sugar and caffeine in it can cause problems on their own, and no one would recommend drinking that much Red Bull at any time, but Red Bull lovers don’t have to fear sudden blindness if they consume in reasonable amounts.
There’s also one other element of the “Red Bull is making me blind” story: the initial reporting is all from UK tabloids, which have the potential to exaggerate greatly. An infamous example is the claim that a woman asked UK taxpayers to fund her £15,000 wedding. The reality was just that she had asked for a £500 pound loan, but that’s not nearly as dramatic. The Red Bull drinker may also belong to that category.
(Image stock via Pixabay.)