Energy drinks can cause dangerous heart rhythms, say researchers

9th April 2015

Energy drinks can pose a risk to people with underlying heart diseases, suggests a new study.

An international research team, led by Dr Fabian Sanchis-Gomar, from Spain, has concluded that energy drinks may cause sudden cardiac deaths in young, apparently healthy people.

The team reported these drinks can aggravate underlying heart issues and cause dangerous heart rhythms because of their high amounts of caffeine and sugar.

In an article published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, the researchers looked at the effects of energy drinks, adverse reactions to them, and how the marketing them for relieving fatigue and improving physical and mental performance could be ignoring the real dangers.

Dr Sanchis-Gomar, from the Research Institute of the 12 October Hospital, Madrid,  and co-investigators from the European University of Madrid, the Academic Hospital of Parma in Italy, and the Texas A&M University in America, found that around 31 per cent of adolescents from 12 to 19 regularly have energy drinks. An even higher number of people use alternatives to these beverages, such as gums or inhalers.

The high amounts of caffeine in all of these products is causing serious harm, the study found. Of the 5,448 caffeine overdoses reported in the United States in 2007, 46 per cent of them occurred in people under the age of 19.

The researchers advised:

  • One can (250 mls) of an energy drink per day is safe for most healthy adolescents
  • Energy drink consumption before or during sports practice should be avoided
  • Adolescents with clinically relevant underlying medical conditions should consult cardiologists before drinking energy drinks
  • Excessive energy drink consumption together with alcohol or other drugs, or both, may lead to adverse effects, including death.

"As energy drink consumption continues to grow, doctors are advised to ask adolescent patients whether they consume energy drinks, to be aware of the symptoms of overconsumption, and to discuss the dangers of energy drinks alone and mixed with alcohol," explained Dr Sanchis-Gomar.

"It is important for doctors to understand the lack of regulation in caffeine content and other ingredients of high-energy beverages and their complications so that parents and children can be educated about the risk of heart rhythm problems and the potential development of anxiety and phobias accompanying excessive energy drink consumption."

The authors also urge that concerns should be communicated to parents and educators, who may be inadvertently promoting overconsumption of caffeine.

References: "Energy Drink Overconsumption in Adolescents: Implications for Arrhythmias and Other Cardiovascular Events," by Fabian Sanchis-Gomar and others.  Published online in advance of the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, Volume 31, Issue 5 (May 2015)