A mother who drank up to 20 cans of Red Bull a day for four years damaged her liver so badly doctors were convinced she was an alcoholic.
Mary Allwood was consuming the equivalent of 17 Mars bars of sugar and 16 cups of coffee of caffeine.
The 26-year-old would stash the cans all over the house -spending more than £2,300 ($3,338) a year on the drinks.
But last November she was rushed to hospital in an ambulance due to severe pain in her side, and an MRI scan revealed her liver was twice the size it should be.
Doctors were convinced she was an alcoholic until she said she was teetotal but addicted to energy drinks.
The full-time mum from Brixham, Devon, said: “I needed it and I didn’t care at the time what damage it was doing to me.
“If I didn’t get my fix I would be miserable and grumpy and it just wasn’t an option – I would make sure I got it.
“At first I would feel as if it would give me a buzz and energy, but eventually it wouldn’t give me energy – I just needed it.
“I needed the taste and fizzyness. It was my heroin. I would feel awful if I didn’t have it.
Mary tried the caffeine drink for the first time was she was aged 22 in a bid to give her a bit more energy.
Initially it worked, but within just four months she was drinking up to 20 cans a day, necking at least two as soon as she woke up at around 8am.
Her weight shot up from a size 16 to a size 24, and she claims she wasn’t drinking anything else apart from Red Bull.
Even an episode of heart palpitations a year after her so-called habit began didn’t halt her drinking.
An MRI scan revealed her liver was twice the size it should be and two fibrous lumps – the size of a grape and a satsuma – had formed on it.
Prolonged intake of excessive alcohol can cause inflammation of the liver and may contribute to fibrosis, leading to cirrhosis (liver damage).
But a diet laden with sugar can lead to build-up in the liver, which can cause it to become dramatically inflamed and develop scarring and lumps.
SOARING SUGAR AND CAFFEINE LEVELS IN 20 CANS OF RED BULL
20 cans of Red Bull contains:
1,600 mg caffeine – the equivalent of 16 cups of coffee
This is four times the recommended 400mg a day.
550 g sugar – the equivalent of around 17 Mars bars.
This is 18 times the recommended 30g a day
HOW EATING TOO MUCH SUGAR CAN DAMAGE THE LIVER
Even though people think of liver disease as a drinker’s complaint, at least one in five people in the UK has some form of liver disease simply because of eating too much.
Liver disease starts when fat is deposited in the liver – usually either as a result of excessive drinking or eating.
This can damage liver cells, but at this stage it’s often symptomless.
But if this process continues over years, the repeated damage to cells can lead to scar tissue – severe scarring is known as liver cirrhosis.
The scar tissue makes the liver hard and lumpy and as a result it becomes unable to function properly.
A 2006 study published in the journal Hepatology found that nearly half of people who had fatty liver developed moderate to severe scarring within 14 years.
Being overweight encourages the progression of liver disease, as high levels of visceral fat – stored around the abdominal organs – release fatty acids and other inflammatory substances that further damage liver cells, says Professor Massimo Pinzani, a liver specialist and director of the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London.
The problem is that liver disease is difficult to spot before it is very advanced.
As Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, explains: ‘There are very few symptoms. The liver doesn’t have any nerve endings – so when it’s damaged, you don’t always feel it.’
Extreme fatigue, dark urine and pale stools are the first signs, as well as jaundice. This is caused by a build-up of the waste product bilirubin, which the malfunctioning liver can no longer remove.
Liver disease is the fifth biggest killer in the UK, and the number of deaths has soared by 25 per cent in a decade – in part because of heavy drinking, but also due to our expanding waistlines.