Zebrafish Buzzing on Taurine and Alcohol

Zebrafish Buzzing on Taurine and Alcohol might sound like an up-and-coming rap rave collective from Shoreditch, but it is actually the result a new academic study.

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the Federal University of Santa Maria in Brazil wanted to test the effects of mixing alcohol with energy drinks.

All they really needed to do was go out into any UK town centre on a Friday night and talk to revellers enjoying Jagerbombs and vodka and Red Bulls.

That would have told them that it blends inebriation with vigour and added focus, but instead the researchers took a different tack.

They packed a tank with 192 zebrafish and dripped alcohol and taurine – the key energy-giving ingredient in energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster – into the water.

The academics found that “taurine seemed to increase the fear-reducing properties of alcohol, but also affected social communication”.

After watching the raving zebrafish for a while, Dr Matt Parker, senior lecturer in behavioural pharmacology and molecular neuroscience at the University of Portsmouth, said: “The effects of mixing alcohol and energy drinks is yet to be established.”

He added: “This study is the first to show that the two together may be exacerbating some of the negative effects of binge-drinking – that is, reduction of fear and problems in social communication while intoxicated, which collectively increase the risk of fighting, violence and participation in risky behaviours.”

Rowdy zebrafish. The fish that were exposed to both alcohol and taurine apparently had “fewer interactions with other fish in the shoal” compared with those exposed to water alone or just alcohol.

These fish also showed more “risky” behaviour. A bit like Friday night on the dance floor in a nightclub in Cardiff, Newcastle or Leeds, when the shapes start getting thrown.

Chimpanzees are often said to be the closest species to humans, but getting a bunch of chimps to drink vodka and Red Bull might have been frowned upon. Parker said that zebrafish are actually “a highly social species” with “similar biological and behavioural responses to alcohol”, making them “ideal for studying the effects of alcohol on behaviour”.

“Here, we found that the addition of taurine, an ingredient in many energy drinks, appears to exacerbate risky choices in zebrafish, as well as reducing their social cohesion,” he said. “Taken together, these data appear to suggest that mixing alcohol and taurine might be a factor in increasing some of the negative effects of alcohol.

“People should be aware that drinking energy drinks in combination with alcohol may impair their judgment, and should do so with caution.”

So there you have it. The good people of the University of Portsmouth advise proceeding with caution when mixing the two together.

However, a clearly unimpressed spokeswoman for the British Soft Drinks Association hit back, hit back, mocking the study and the claims made by Parker.

“This study, carried out on fish, runs contrary to the body of evidence in this area and – as pointed out by the co-author – does not prove cause and effect,” she said.

“The European Food Safety Authority latest opinion confirms the safety of energy drinks. In fact, EFSA’s meta-analysis of literature – the largest of its kind to date – found there to be no ‘masking’ effect of caffeine when combined with alcohol and states that alcohol consumption is unlikely to exacerbate the effects of caffeine on the central nervous system.

“EFSA concluded that studies linking consumption of energy drinks with alcohol and increased risk-taking behaviour, were either cross-sectional or retrospective and did not allow a causal role to be attributed.”

Ben Butler, spokesman for industry funded charity Drinkaware, stepped in to provide the voice of reason.

“They may make you feel like you can stay out all night but mixing alcohol mixed with energy drinks can be a dangerous combination,” he said. “Energy drinks can mask the effects of alcohol, and make you wide awake drunk, so you may underestimate how you’re feeling and end up drinking more alcohol than you normally would.

“The more alcohol you consume the more you are at risk of accident, injury and risky behaviour.”

So don’t act like a crazy zebrafish and be sure to moderate your intake of alcohol and energy drinks in order to live a happy, healthy and fulfilled life.

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