Energy Drinks: Healthy or Harmful?

What Could Possibly Be Bad About Having More Energy?

Energy drinks have become a multi-billion dollar industry. Brands like Red Bull, Monster and RockStar advertise that they “give you wings”, “unleash the beast” and allow you to “party like a rock star” when in truth they should simply say they are overloaded with sugar, chock full of caffeine and laden with herbs and amino acids that can set you up for health problems. New research was recently presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) that has scientists concerned about these drinks and their effects on the heart.

STATISTIC: A 2013 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revealed that from 2007 to 2011 in the US, energy drink-related emergency room visits doubled, climbing from 10,068 to 20,783.

Most of these cases occurred in patients between the ages of 18 and 25, but this was followed by patients aged 26 to 39.

Researchers talked about the contents of these drinks: “Usually energy drinks contain taurine and caffeine as their main pharmacological ingredients. The amount of caffeine is up to three times higher than in other caffeinated beverages like coffee or cola.” They add that side effects associated with consuming a large amount of caffeine include a rapid heart rate, palpitations, rise in blood pressure and even seizures or death.

How Do Energy Drinks Affect Your Heart?

In the current study researchers measured the effect of energy drinks on heart function using cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Study participants consist of 15 healthy men and three healthy women, with an average age of 27.5 years. The team took cardiac MRIs of the participants both before and 1 hour after they consumed an energy drink, which contained 400 mg/100 ml taurine and 32 mg/100 ml caffeine. Results showed that the consumption of the energy drinks significantly increased strain on the left ventricle of the heart. These changes in the contractions of the heart could trigger heart arrhythmias. These contractility changes of the heart may trigger heart arrhythmias or irregular heartbeat leading to some degree of heart failure.

Jonas Dörner, et al., Caffeine and Taurine Containing Energy Drink Improves Systolic Left-ventricular Contractility in Healthy Volunteers Assessed by Strain Analysis Using Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Tagging (CSPAMM), RSNA, 2 December 2013, Abstract.