Study: Energy drinks pose health risk to those with genetic heart conditions 

Health News

By Naveen Athrappully 
Contributing Writer 

Consumption of energy drinks by people with genetic heart issues puts them at risk of cardiac events, according to a recent study. 

“Energy drinks potentially can trigger life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias,” said the study published in the Heart Rhythm journal on June 5. 

“It has been postulated that the highly stimulating and unregulated ingredients alter heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac contractility, and cardiac repolarization in a potentially proarrhythmic manner,” the researchers said. 

The study looked at the impact of energy drink consumption among people with genetic heart diseases, analyzing data about patients who survived sudden cardiac arrest. 

People with genetic heart diseases have a higher risk for SCA and sudden cardiac death, the study noted. 

“The surge in popularity of energy drinks, increasing levels of caffeine content per serving, and presence of several unregulated ingredients raise concern about their use in patients with GHDs.” 

Among 144 SCA survivors, seven of them (5%) were found to have consumed one or more energy drinks in close proximity to the cardiac event. Of the seven, six were female. 

“Energy drinks could be triggering SCA in individuals with GHD,” researchers wrote, also noting that energy drinks are mostly consumed by men in the age group of 18-34 years. 

Three out of the seven patients said they consumed energy drinks frequently while the remaining four said their consumption was infrequent. 

Six out of seven patients required a rescue shock for malignant arrhythmia. Manual resuscitation with chest compressions and precordial thump was performed on one patient. 

Following the sudden cardiac arrest events, the seven patients ceased energy drink consumption. They have been free from cardiac events since then. 

The researchers concluded that even though larger cohort studies were needed to ascertain and quantify precise risks, “an early warning should be made about the potential risks of these drinks in these patients.” 

The study received funding from the Mayo Clinic Windland Smith Rice Comprehensive Sudden Cardiac Death Program and the Mayo Clinic Center for Translational Science Activities. 

Other studies in the past have shown definitive links between energy drinks and heart issues. One paper from 2018 found that energy drink consumption can harm the proper functioning of blood vessels and raise the risk of cardiac issues. 

In the 2018 study, researchers tested the blood vessel function of students before and after they drank an energy drink. Vessel dilation was found to be “5.1% in diameter before the energy drink and fell to 2.8% diameter after, suggesting acute impairment in vascular function.” 

Caution Urged 

While the researchers in the latest study admitted that energy drinks “cannot be confidently deemed the sole contributor of cardiac arrest” in the seven individuals, they noted that the link “should not be taken lightly.” 

They recommended that medical experts caution patients with genetic heart diseases about consuming energy drinks. 

Individuals with these conditions “should monitor energy drink consumption, especially in combination with other potential risk factors in their daily life that could trigger an event,” the study said. 

Researchers recommended keeping caffeine consumption within limits and ensuring proper nutrition and hydration. 

Among the patients analyzed in the study, the time span between consuming energy drinks and the occurrence of the cardiac event varied from immediately to within 12 hours before the event, the study said. 

Caffeine content in energy drinks ranges between 80 to 200 mg per serving. An 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee has 100 mg of caffeine. 

After their clinical evaluation, six out of the seven patients were discharged with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator — a device that detects a rapid, life-threatening heartbeat and quickly sends an electric shock to the heart to revert the rhythm to normalcy. 

The June 5 study also called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to look into the potential connection between energy drink consumption and cardiac events among people with genetic heart diseases. 

It pointed out that many energy drinks claim to include natural ingredients, which leads to these products being classified as dietary supplements rather than medications. 

“Because of the classification of these drinks as a supplement, the energy drink industry avoids regulation by the FDA, allowing companies to circumvent disclosure of precise caffeine content and ingredients for each serving,” researchers wrote. 

“There is growing concern that the absence of accurate dosage information on labels may contribute to accidental caffeine overdoses, although such incidents remain rare while the potentially harmful effects of the remaining ingredients are largely unknown.” 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, energy drinks offer an extra energy boost to students. However, the stimulants in these drinks “can have a harmful effect on the nervous system,” the agency warned. 

Energy drinks usually contain large amounts of caffeine and stimulants like taurine, L-carnitine, and guarana. In addition to increasing alertness and attention, these stimulants can raise heart rate, blood pressure and breathing, the CDC stated. 

Some of the dangers include anxiety, insomnia, dehydration, and heart complications like irregular heartbeat and heart failure. 

CDC cited the American Academy of Pediatrics to state that “caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.” 

In July last year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, urged the FDA to look into popular energy drink PRIME, citing concerns about children’s health. 

Prime, which is promoted as a vegan, zero-sugar drink, has 200 milligrams of caffeine in a 12-ounce can. 

That’s almost as much as in two, 250-milliliter containers of Red Bull and equivalent to about six 250-ml cans of Coca-Cola. 

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