Energy Drinks Found To Cause Abnormal Heart Function — Needs Further Study

Energy Drinks | Daniel Juřena | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Energy drinks are well-known for claims of increased physical and mental alertness and stimulation after consumption. These beverages are common, especially among athletes and students who need an extra boost and feel re-fuelled to perform and complete tasks. There are about 500 energy drink products in the market, nowadays, and the most popular ones are Monster, Red Bull, and Rockstar.

Globally in 2011, the market for energy drinks amounted to 30 billion US dollars (USD), and it is estimated to increase up to 61 billion USD by 2021. Moreover, according to the survey conducted by National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003 to 2016, the prevalence of energy drink consumption on a typical day increased significantly for adolescents (0.2% to 1.4%), young adults (0.5% to 5.5%), and middle-aged adults (0% to 1.2%).

These drinks are non-alcoholic beverages that contain high levels of caffeine and stimulants, amino acids, herbs, and vitamins. “People who drink energy drinks consume approximately 200 calories from these beverages daily, which is considerably higher than other sugary beverages like soda,” says Sara Bleich at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health told Reuters Health.

Young adults and adolescents are attracted to these beverages due to peer influence, appealing marketing strategies, envisioned need, and a lack of knowledge of the potential adverse effects on their health. Some of them even consume energy drinks regularly — which was also linked to increased incidence of emergency room consultations and death.

There are existing studies that talk about the adverse health effects of energy drinks. Only recently, another study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, revealed that energy drinks have significant impacts on a person’s blood pressure and heart’s electrical activity. This adds up to the growing evidence that energy drinks may indeed cause harm to our health.

The study used 34 healthy participants between 18 to 40 years old. They were randomly assigned to consume 32 ounces of commercially available caffeinated energy drinks or a placebo drink within 60 minutes — but should not be faster than 16 ounces in 30 minutes.

The energy drinks contain 304 to 320 milligrams of caffeine, as well as other ingredients such as taurine (an amino acid found in meat and fish), glucuronolactone (found in plants), B vitamins, and sugar. On the other hand, the placebo drink only contained carbonated water, lime juice, and cherry flavoring.

To monitor the effects, researchers used an electrocardiogram to take track of a person’s blood pressure and electrical activity before consumption and every 30 minutes for 4 hours after drinking. Results revealed that participants who consumed the energy drink had a prolonged QT interval, of 6 or 7.7 milliseconds higher compared to those who consumed the placebo drinks. Note: QT interval is essential to monitor abnormal heartbeats, which could be fatal if irregular.

Aside from changes in the heart’s electrical activity, there were also changes in the blood pressure observed among participants who consumed the energy drinks. Researchers found out that there was a significant increase of about 4 to 5 mm Hg in both systolic and diastolic blood pressures compared to the placebo drinkers.

The lead author of the study, Sachin A. Shah, Pharm.D., a professor of pharmacy practice at University of the Pacific, Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Stockton, California stated that “we found an association between consuming energy drinks and changes in QT intervals and blood pressure that cannot be attributed to caffeine. We urgently need to investigate the particular ingredient or combination of ingredients in different types of energy drinks that might explain the findings seen in our clinical trial.”

Although the ingredients of the energy drinks (e.g., caffeine, taurine, B vitamins) are not necessarily harmful, their presence in the beverage may be a potential cause of harm to consumers. “The concern is that these vitamins, amino acids, and herbals are often in higher concentrations than naturally in food or plants,” Katherine Zeratsky, a clinical dietitian at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota told CNN. “The effects, when combined, especially with caffeine, may be enhanced.”

There are still areas of research that need to be filled to understand what causes the blood pressure and the heart’s electrical activity to change — and the mechanism behind this. Further research could be conducted to look into the possible interactions of these ingredients with each other.

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