Taurine, caffeine, and energy drinks: Reviewing the risks to the adolescent brain

Birth Defects Res. 2017 Dec 1;109(20):1640-1648. doi: 10.1002/bdr2.1177.


Energy drinks are emerging as a major component of the beverage market with sales projected to top $60 billion globally in the next five years. Energy drinks contain a variety of ingredients, but many of the top-selling brands include high doses of caffeine and the amino acid taurine. Energy drink consumption by children has raised concerns, due to potential caffeine toxicity. An additional risk has been noted among college-aged consumers of energy drinks who appear at higher risk of over-consumption of alcohol when the two drinks are consumed together. The differential and combinatorial effects of caffeine and taurine on the developing brain are reviewed here with an emphasis on the adolescent brain, which is still maturing. Key data from animal studies are summarized to highlight both reported benefits and adverse effects reported following acute and chronic exposures. The data suggest that age is an important factor in both caffeine and taurine toxicity. Although the aged or diseased brain might benefit from taurine or caffeine supplementation, it appears that adolescents are not likely to benefit from supplementation and may, in fact, suffer ill effects from chronic ingestion of high doses. Additional work is needed though to address gaps in our understanding of how taurine affects females, since the majority of animal studies focused exclusively on male subjects.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Caffeine / adverse effects*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / adverse effects
  • Energy Drinks / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology*
  • Taurine / adverse effects*


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Taurine
  • Caffeine