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Energy Drinks May Cause Dangerous Electrical Activity In Heart, High Blood Pressure: Study

A new study raises additional concerns about the potential health risks of energy drinks, indicating that consumption of the highly caffeinated beverages drastically changes the electrical activity of the heart, while also raising blood pressure, which may increase the risk of life-threatening arrhythmia.

In a study published this week in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA), researchers with the University of the Pacific warn that side effects of energy drinks may cause an increase blood pressure and irregular heartbeats lasting as long as four hours after consumption.

The researcher involved a randomized study to determine the impacts of energy drinks on electrocardiographic and hemodynamic parameters among healthy individuals. It involved 34 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 40 years of age, who were randomly assigned to drink 32 ounces of one of two widely available caffeinated energy drinks, or a placebo drink over a three-day period. Participants were given 60 minutes  to drink it.

Every 30 minutes, researchers measured volunteers’ blood pressure and their heart’s electrical activity by electrocardiogram to record a QT interval. The QT interval is a measurement of the time it takes ventricles in the heart to prepare to generate a beat. When the intervals are too fast or prolonged it can cause the heart to beat abnormally and lead to adverse cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks or arrhythmia’s.

The results of the tests indicate those who consumed one of the two energy drinks had QT intervals of 6 to 7.7 milliseconds higher after four hours than those consuming the placebo drink. Those who consumed the energy drinks experienced potentially dangerous heart rate activity for a prolonged four hour time period, the researchers determined.

Energy drink consumers were also found to have a significant 4 to 5 mm Hg increase in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, which, when compounded with accelerated heart rates, can cause fatal outcomes, especially for those taking medications for preexisting conditions.

Despite the common belief that caffeine levels in energy drinks are the leading cause of increased side effects, the study found the increased QT levels and blood pressure measurements were caused by a particular ingredient or combination of ingredients, according to lead author Sachin A. Shah, Pharm.D., professor of pharmacy practice at University of the Pacific, Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Stockton, California.

Shah said additional research is urgently needed to determine the one, or multiple ingredients combined that have produced these adverse results in the clinical trial.

Energy Drink Health Concerns

Although most consumers believe energy drinks to be safe due to information on the nutrition labels, the drinks are not regulated because they are considered dietary supplements. Many manufacturers do not even disclose the ingredients or levels of caffeine contained in each bottle.

Energy drinks are a multi-billion dollar industry and continuing to grow. In 2013, the industry was worth $39 billion and is anticipated to reach upward of $61 billion by 2021.

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 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.

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Image via Keith Homan / Shutterstock.com

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