The study authors wrote that "it seems highly probable that the intake of brominated vegetable oil is the cause of the tissue bromine residues in children."
Data in rats show that BVO could be toxic. A 1971 study by Canadian researchers found that rats fed a diet containing 0.5 percent brominated oils grew heavy hearts and developed lesions in their heart muscle. In a later study, in 1983, rats fed the same oils had behavioral problems, and those fed 1 percent BVO had trouble conceiving. At 2 percent, they were unable to reproduce.
The diets in that study had "whopping doses" of BVO, about 100-times higher than today's allowable limit, said Vorhees, lead author of the 1983 study.
But two case studies in the past 15 years show that whopping doses also can occur in people—with unhealthy consequences.
On MMO nights at the Battle & Brew, some gamers play 12 straight hours. In these Massively Multiplayer Online games, thousands of players from around the world compete. During these epic battles, a soda every hour is not uncommon. A gamer chugging a 20-ounce bottle of soda every hour will finish 3.5 liters in six hours.
"They're just sitting for 12 hours, just pounding sodas," Smawley said.
Virtually every teen in America plays video games, according to the Pew Research Center. The $110-billion-a-year soft drink industry and the $74-billion-a-year video game industry have noticed. Activision, the makers of "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3," the latest edition in this popular video game series, paired with Mountain Dew in a promotion that rewards gamers with bonus points for drinking more Mountain Dew.
In 1997, emergency room doctors at University of California, Davis reported a patient with severe bromine intoxication from drinking two to four liters of orange soda every day. He developed headaches, fatigue, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination) and memory loss.
In a 2003 case reported in Ohio, a 63-year-old man developed ulcers on his swollen hands after drinking eight liters of Red Rudy Squirt every day for several months. The man was diagnosed with bromoderma, a rare skin hypersensitivity to bromine exposure. The patient quit drinking the brominated soft drink and months later recovered.
Reactions this severe may not be a concern in the general population, the study’s doctors said.
"Any normal level of consumption of BVO would not cause any health problems — except the risk of diabetes and obesity from drinking that much sugar water," said Zane Horowitz, medical director of the Oregon Poison Center and author of the 1997 case study.
But in the gamer scene, a normal level of consumption is not normal. Everyone, it seems, knows someone habitually needing a fuel fix, and consuming enough to up his or her risk.
"I've seen hard core guys, after every game they'll just grab another one," said Sean Hyatt, the assistant manager at the Battle & Brew.
And it's not just the "stinkies"—Smawley's derogatory term for the stereotypical gamer slobs—who pound gamer fuel. Vorhees, of the Cincinnati children's hospital, said his son stays up all night when playing a new game with his friends.
"They use Mountain Dew specifically as a beverage to keep them awake—and they hardly eat anything," Vorhees said.
When a person doesn't eat during one of these binges, his or her body is absorbing the entire beverage. It's even worse in kids, Vorhees said, because they have less body mass.