New research highlights the potentially serious side effects of energy drinks, finding that the popular beverages are more harmful to heart health than drinking caffeine alone.
In a study published this week in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers with the David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base in California found that those who consumed energy drinks experienced abnormal heart rhythms and prolonged elevated blood pressure, while those who just drank high amounts of caffeine did not.
Researchers conducted a randomized, double-blined controlled crossover study involving 18 healthy men and women between the ages of 18 and 40. Half of the group was given a 32-ounce can of an unidentified energy drink that is commercially available, and the other half were given a concoction of carbonated water, caffeine and cherry and lime flavorings.
Both drinks contained the same amount of caffeine, 320 milligrams, but the energy drink also included a blend of vitamin B, amino acids, taurine guarana extract, ginseng extract, sugar alcohol and other compounds.
According to the findings, two hours after consuming the drinks, those who were given the energy drink showed changes in the QT intervals of the heart, which affects the heart’s rhythm. Those changes were not seen in caffeine drinkers.
In addition, both drinks raised systolic blood pressure initially, but those who consumed the energy drink continued to have elevated blood pressure six hours later. By that time, the blood pressure of those who drank the caffeine-only mixture had already returned to normal.
Researchers concluded that it was more than just the caffeine in energy drinks that may be causing heart problems identified in previous studies.
“The corrected QT interval and systolic BP were significantly higher post high‐volume energy drink consumption when compared with caffeine alone,” the researchers determined. “Larger clinical trials validating these findings and evaluation of noncaffeine ingredients within energy drinks are warranted.”
The American Beverage Association issued a press statement on the findings on the same day, defending the safety of energy drinks.
“Energy drinks have been safely consumed by people around the world for more than 25 years and nothing in this study of just 18 people refutes the safety of these products or their ingredients,” the statement reads. “In fact, many of the ingredients in energy drinks, such as B vitamins and taurine, are found naturally in many foods. It is also important to note that the raised blood pressure reported in this study was minimal – similar to what is experienced when climbing a flight of stairs – and, the researchers themselves say the results of the study are ‘not alarming.’”
However, the findings are the latest in a number of studies that have raised questions about energy drink safety.
Energy Drink Health Concerns
A study published just last month by Australian researchers also linked caffeinated energy drinks to heart problems that can cause rapid, irregular heartbeats in some consumers. The effects could result in fainting, seizures and even sudden death, the researchers warned.
Several studies have found that consumption of only a couple energy drinks over a several week period can cause increased blood pressure and heart arrhythmias, which can cause long-term heart problems.
In March 2016, the American Heart Association indicated that the overuse of energy drinks could cause increased heart problems including heart attacks, sudden cardiac arrest and other potentially life-threatening complications.
Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in November 2015, found that consuming just one can of Rockstar energy drink led to an increased risk of heart problems and high blood pressure among young, healthy adults.
The FDA is currently investigating health concerns surrounding the drinks, after a number of adverse event reports were submitted in recent years connecting energy drinks to severe injuries and deaths.
According to information released in 2012, at least 37 adverse event reports had been received by the FDA involving health problems from Monster Energy drinks, including at least six deaths.
Amid aggressive marketing by the manufacturers, energy drink sales increased 240% between 2004 and 2009, and the number of caffeine overdose emergency room visits increased from 1,128 in 2005 to 16,055 in 2008. Approximately 56% of those visits involved individuals between the ages of 12 and 25 years.
In recent years, a number of energy drink lawsuits have been filed on behalf of otherwise healthy young adults who suffered sudden heart problems within hours after drinking the beverages, alleging that the manufacturers placed their desire for profits before the safety of consumers.