Can Energy Drinks Make Your Heart Beat Abnormally?

A new study raises concerns

Do you buy energy drinks for your children or drink them when you’re working out? New evidence shows these drinks may boost your blood pressure, and they can also affect your heartbeat.

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A recent study found that healthy adults were more likely to have an abnormal heartbeat and high blood pressure after drinking an energy drink. Researchers also assessed the response to other drinks that contained the same amount of caffeine as the energy drinks.

The findings, reported in the Journal of the American Heart Association, raise concerns and unanswered questions.

So, what exactly do energy drinks contain that has such an impact on your body?

“The big thing that jumped off the page for me was the 108 grams of sugar,” says cardiologist Daniel Cantillon, MD. “Energy drinks are very sugar-enriched and obviously have health implications.”

Also disturbing, Dr. Cantillon says, are the unknown effects of ingredients in the drinks’ proprietary blends.

What about energy drinks and children?

There are more than 500 energy drinks on the market. Drink makers claim that they will help you perform better, physically and mentally.

Ingredients vary, but most energy drinks contain caffeine, sugar and proprietary blends of ginseng and other herbal and chemical ingredients.

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The drinks are popular with teens and young adults. Men between the ages of 18 and 34 are the largest consumer group.

Earlier studies and reports link energy drinks to cardiac arrhythmia in children. So, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and adolescents avoid them.

One study found that children younger than age 6 account for more than 40 percent of the emergency calls to poison centers that relate to energy drinks.

New study raises concern for adults

For the latest study, researchers recruited 18 healthy men and women, ages 18 to 40, on a U.S. Air Force base. The men and women drank a 32-ounce energy drink or a caffeinated control drink. Both contained 320 milligrams of caffeine. Then, after a 6-day washout period, they switched drinks.

Researchers detected blood pressure and heartbeat abnormalities after participants drank the energy drinks. They did not see these ill effects after drinks that contained caffeine only.

Dr. Cantillon sees a need for more research regarding energy drink safety among adults with chronic health problems, and he advises caution.

“We really need further studies to understand the safety of energy drinks,” he says. “Energy drinks are probably OK for healthy individuals, but I don’t endorse energy drinks for anyone.”

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He warns consumers to use caution when buying dietary supplement products. They are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and thus are “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease,” he says.

What about caffeinated drinks?

While the amount of caffeine used in the study — 320 milligrams — is high, the dosage is within a safe range, Dr. Cantillon says.

Most doctors consider daily doses of up to 400 milligrams (the equivalent of about four cups of brewed coffee) harmless for most adults without chronic health problems, he says.

If your drink contains caffeine, it can be easy to overdo it when you’re hot and thirsty after a game or when you’re exercising.

Possible effects of caffeinated drinks include alertness, palpitations, agitation, heartburn and diarrhea. And, because it’s a diuretic, caffeine makes your body lose water.

So, caffeinated drinks don’t really quench your thirst.

“I’m a fan of plain old water,” Dr. Cantillon says. “Water will get the job done.”

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