Energy drinks won’t only cause your young children to bounce off the walls – they may cause an irregular heartbeat, too.
A study recently presented at an American Heart Association (AHA) meeting revealed that children younger than age 6 represented more than 40 percent of the emergency calls to poison centers that were related to energy drinks. The effects the energy drinks had on the children included heart arrhythmia and seizures.
That’s because many energy drinks contain pharmaceutical-grade caffeine in addition to caffeine from natural sources, the AHA says. These combined sources of caffeine may cause the heart to race and blood pressure to increase. Energy drinks with multiple caffeine sources are linked to a higher rate of side effects, typically involving the nervous, digestive or cardiovascular systems, the AHA says.
Physicians have seen an uptick in the number of adolescents who consume energy drinks and experience abnormal heart rhythms.
“We commonly see patients who say they’ve developed palpitations,” says Peter Aziz, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. “They feel like their heart is fluttering, and oftentimes we dig a little bit deeper and come across a history of using caffeinated beverages like energy drinks.”
The way consumers generally think about caffeine doesn’t apply to energy drinks, Dr. Aziz says.
For example, a cup of coffee contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine. But the amount of caffeine in one energy drink is amplified. The AHA reports that some energy drinks contain up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per can or bottle.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers 400 milligrams of caffeine as an acceptable level for healthy adults. But the FDA does not have guidelines on what it considers a safe amount of caffeine for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics prefers children consume no caffeine at all.
A number of studies have shown the potentially negative effects that energy drinks may have on the heart, Dr. Aziz says. One study found consuming energy drinks may increase blood pressure in some people. Another found that energy drinks cause increased heart contraction rates.
The bottom line, Dr. Aziz says, is that energy drinks may generally do more harm than good – especially in kids.
“An enormous amount of caffeine at one time may trigger a handful of diseases that a lot of parents didn’t know existed for their child,” Dr. Aziz says. “Arrhythmia syndromes, which are more common than previously thought, can be triggered by the caffeine.”
If you need an extra boost of energy, Dr. Aziz says it’s safer to get it from exercise.
“Anything synthetic, generally speaking, is dangerous,” he says. “Energy drinks are a perfect example of that.”