How Energy Drinks Impact the Heart

Heart contractibility was altered following energy drink consumption

(RxWiki News) Coffee has been a common wake-up tool for a long time. Now, high-octane energy drinks are popular for packing an even bigger kick. Researchers wanted to know how these drinks affect the heart.

A small study found that energy drinks changed the way the heart beats in healthy adults.

Imaging studies showed that the drinks significantly increased heart contraction rates.

The researchers noted they weren't sure how these changes affect daily activities or athletic performance.

"If you have an irregular heartbeat, avoid energy drinks."

In this study led by Jonas Dörner, MD, of the cardiovascular imaging section at the University of Bonn, Germany, the researchers used cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate how energy drinks affected heart function in healthy adults.

According to these researchers, energy drinks now make up a multibillion dollar industry. Teenagers and young adults were early consumers of the beverages which contain high amounts of caffeine and other ingredients that boost energy. Adults are becoming bigger consumers of these energy drinks.

These researchers also noted that energy drink-related emergency room visits have more than doubled in recent years, going from 10,068 in 2007 to 20,783 in 2001, according to the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Dr. Dörner said in a statement, "The amount of caffeine is up to three times higher than in other caffeinated beverages like coffee or cola. There are many side effects known to be associated with a high intake of caffeine, including rapid heart rate, palpitations, rise in blood pressure and, in the most severe cases, seizures or sudden death."

For this ongoing study, the research team used cardiac MRI to measure the heart function of 18 adults with an average age of 27. MRIs were taken before and one hour after consuming an energy drink containing 400 mg/100 ml of taurine and 32 mg/100 ml of caffeine.

The MRI following consumption showed that the heart’s left ventricle had higher peak strain and peak systolic strain rates. These are measurements of the heart’s contractibility.

The left ventricle is the part of the heart that receives oxygen-filled blood from the lungs and pumps it to the aorta — the body’s largest artery — for distribution throughout the body.

Other key heart function measurements, including heart rate, blood pressure and the amount of blood ejected from the left ventricle, did not change after participants consumed the energy drink.

Dr. Dörner said that while short-term cardiac impact was shown, additional studies are needed to evaluate the impact of long-term consumption of energy drinks, how these beverages affect people with heart disease and the effect of combining energy drinks with alcohol.

Despite these unknowns, Dr. Dörner advised children and people with an irregular heartbeat to avoid energy drinks because changes in contraction rates could trigger arrhythmias, which are changes in how the heart beats.

“This work reveals that [energy drink] consumption has a short-term impact on cardiac contractility; therefore further studies have to evaluate the impact of long-term [energy drink] consumption and the effect of [energy drinks] on patients with heart disease to determine potential risks or benefits of [energy drink] consumption,” the authors of this study concluded.

"For the vast majority of people, the worst that occurs when they take in too much caffeine is their heart skips or races. However, sometimes worse things can happen," said Jeffrey Schussler, MD, an interventional cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital and Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

Dr. Schussler continued by noting, "It's important to realize that too much of anything can be bad for you, and energy drinks can cause problems for some people."

This study was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). All research is considered preliminary before it’s published in a peer-reviewed journal.

One of the authors disclosed a financial relationship with Medtronic. No other conflicts of interest were declared.

Review Date: 
December 2, 2013