Energy Drinks and Health
We all know that caffeine is a key stimulant in energy drinks. For health reasons, the FDA limits the amount of caffeine to fewer than 400 milligrams per drink.
Not to be deterred by such restrictions, the energy drink industry typically adds proprietary blends of stimulants to make their products more powerful than your cup of coffee.
But more power can be dangerous, maybe even deadly, recent research1 has found.
Three Drinks Daily
The authors, primarily from Travis Air Force Base in California, decided to do the research because many military personnel consume energy drinks. About 15% down three drinks daily.
That was concerning, wrote lead author Dr. Emily Fletcher and colleagues, because studies among the general population have found that energy drink-associated emergency room visits and deaths have increased2,3, “prompting questions about their safety.”
Energy Drinks Vs Caffeine Alone
To find out more precisely how energy drinks affect the body, Dr. Fletcher and her team compared the heart-health effects of a 32-ounce energy drink with a control drink that had the same amount of caffeine.
For the study, 18 healthy adults ages 18 to 40 were randomly divided into two groups.
The first group drank the energy drink. It contained 108 grams of sugar, 320 mg of caffeine, and various other ingredients often found in drinks like Monster Energy, Red Bull, and 5-Hour Energy (yes, the ingredients that are marketed as giving us more energy than caffeine alone).
The second group drank the control beverage. It had 320 mg of caffeine, 40 mL of lime juice, and 140 mL of cherry syrup in carbonated water. (not much energy-boosting power in a little lime juice and cherry syrup).
After a six-day washout, the participants switched drinks.
Energy Drinks and Health | Blood Pressure
After consuming the energy drink, the subjects’ blood pressure remained elevated six hours longer than after swallowing the control drink.
Energy Drinks and Health | Heart Function
Even more significant was the effect of the energy drink on heart function, namely, the QT interval.
Essentially, the QT interval is the amount of time it takes for the ventricles in the heart’s lower chambers to repolarize, or prepare, to generate another heartbeat. Any drug with a 6 millisecond or greater QT response must have a label warning.
After swallowing the energy drink, the QT response of the participants was 10 milliseconds. “It can cause the heart to beat abnormally. The resulting arrhythmia can be life-threatening,” explained Dr. Fletcher in a news release from the American Heart Association.
The control drink did not put the QT response into harmful territory.
These were the consequences of one energy drink. Many energy drinkers chug down two to three daily – one in the morning to wake up, one to ward off the mid-afternoon slump, and a third to work and play into the night.
With the findings of this study, it should be much less mysterious why energy drinking can lead to ER visits and death.
And, of course, we haven’t even gotten into the calorie load of these drinks. Sixteen ounces of Red Bull, for example, tallies up about 220 calories. That’s a big problem if you’re trying to lose weight because calories in drinks – whether those calories come from sodas or fruit juices or energy drinks – do not register in our brain’s satiety centers. Put simply, we’re just as hungry for our next meal whether we’ve drunk that energy drink or not.
Energy Drinks and Health | Summing Up
Energy drinks were never a good choice because of their liquid calories and often large amounts of caffeine. “They’ve never been a part of the Pritikin Eating Plan,” notes Dr. Seth Marquit, Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami. The Center has been helping thousands worldwide launch heart-healthy lifestyles since 1975.
This recent research from Travis Air Force Base indicates there may be another reason – frankly, a scary one – to steer clear of energy drinks. Irrespective of their caffeine, other ingredients in the energy drinks may have deleterious effects on both blood pressure and heart function.
“Calculating the risk-reward balance should be a no-brainer,” sums up Dr. Marquit. “Why take any of the risks of energy drinks when the benefits of mental sharpness and physical vitality can be achieved risk free by a healthy diet and daily exercise like the Pritikin Program?”