Potential harm of energy drinks – it’s not the caffeine

April 28, 2017 in Heart Health, Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Nutrition Topics in the News

Potential harm of energy drinks – it’s not the caffeine

Drinking 32 ounces of energy drink is associated with potentially harmful changes in blood pressure and heart function that are beyond those seen with caffeine alone, according to a new study.

There are more than 500 energy drink products on the market, and their increased popularity is matched by a significant rise in energy drink-associated emergency department visits and deaths. 

Manufacturers of these products claim they are as safe as caffeine, but there’s little evidence to support that claim. 

Caffeine in doses up to 400 mg (about five small cups of coffee) is generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada. While energy drinks usually contain caffeine, little is known about the safety of some of their other ingredients.

To see what effects these other components have, researchers compared physical changes in a group of 18 healthy men and women after consuming a commercially available energy drink and after drinking another concoction with the same amount of caffeine but none of the other ingredients.

Besides 320 mg of caffeine - the amount in about four cups of coffee - the energy drink contained 112 grams of sugar (28 teaspoons worth), several B vitamins and a proprietary "energy blend" of taurine and other ingredients that are often found drinks like Monster Energy, Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy.

EKG changes, elevated blood pressure not related to caffeine

The researchers measured the participants’ blood pressure and used an electrocardiogram (often called an ECG or EKG) to measure heart electrical activity for 24 hours after the subjects consumed the drinks.

An ECG change known as QTc prolongation and sometimes associated with life-threatening irregularities in the heartbeat was seen after drinking the energy drink, but not after drinking the caffeine beverage.

Several drugs have been withdrawn from the market just for causing ECG changes of a similar magnitude, the authors noted.

Blood pressure increased by close to 5 points after drinking the energy drink, but by just under 1 point after drinking the caffeine beverage. Blood pressure also remained elevated six hours later. 

People with heart conditions should be wary of energy drinks

These changes are not worrisome for healthy individuals, the researchers say, but patients with certain heart conditions might need to exercise caution consuming energy drinks. Larger studies are needed to evaluate the safety of the non-caffeine ingredients contained in energy drinks.

The energy drink industry claims that their products are safe because they have no more caffeine than premium coffee. However, energy drinks also contain a proprietary ‘energy blend,’ which typically consists of stimulants and other additives. Some of these ingredients (including taurine and guarana) have not been FDA-approved as safe in the food supply, and few studies have tested the effects of caffeine consumption together with such ingredients.

Energy drinks are highly marketed to adolescent boys in ways that encourage risky behavior, including rapid and excessive consumption, experts say.

Source:  Journal of the American Heart Association, online April 26, 2017.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.