Report Finds Energy Drinks Responsible For Elevated Blood Pressure, Irregular Heartbeat
March 22, 2013

Report Finds Energy Drinks Responsible For Elevated Blood Pressure, Irregular Heartbeat

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

A new report is adding weight to growing evidence that energy drinks are bad news for your health.

A US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) probe has been opened into energy drink makers after several deaths have been blamed on caffeine overload from these popular beverages, and one company — Monster Beverage — has been the center of attention since the death of a 14-year-old Maryland girl in December 2011.

The reported deaths have all been linked to consumption of caffeinated energy drinks, yet there has not been any solid proof that the consumption of such drinks actually caused the deaths. Attorneys for Monster Beverage, which is being sued by the parents of the deceased 14-year-old, claim that the girl had a pre-existing heart condition which likely was the reason for her death.

However, the new report has found evidence that these caffeine-enriched energy drinks can raise systolic blood pressure, the top number in a BP reading, by 3.5 points. This finding came from the study of 132 patients over six combined studies.

The report also noted that energy drink consumption can lengthen a phase of the heart´s electrical cycle, known as the QT interval. The researchers came to this conclusion after studying 93 people in three combined studies.

Having a long QT interval is a sign that a person is at greater risk of suffering from an irregular heartbeat, which can be fatal. The research team concluded that drinking one to three cans raised the QT interval by 10 milliseconds.

“Doctors are generally concerned if patients experience an additional 30 milliseconds in their QT interval from baseline,” said Sachin A. Shah, Pharm.D., lead author and assistant professor at University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.

“QT prolongation is associated with life-threatening arrhythmias. The finding that energy drinks could prolong the QT, in light of the reports of sudden cardiac death, warrants further investigation.” Said Coauthor Ian Riddock, MD, director of preventive cardiology at the David Grant Medical Center (DGMC), Travis Air Force Base, California.

“The correlation between energy drinks and increased systolic blood pressure is convincing and concerning, and more studies are needed to assess the impact on the heart rhythm.” Shah said in a statement. “Patients with high blood pressures or long QT syndrome should use caution and judgment before consuming an energy drink."

The findings of the report suggest that people with pre-existing heart conditions should be cautious when consuming energy drinks, noted Shah.

“We need to look at the effects of long-term energy drinks consumption and see what the consequences are,” Shah, said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg´s Nicole Ostrow. “Everything is good in moderation. Drink them within the limits that have been provided and be vigilant of what else you´re consuming with it.”

While the findings are significant, Shah said it´s not yet clear if it´s the caffeine or another ingredient in the drink that´s causing these heart changes, such as taurine. He said more research is needed to analyze the ingredients and their effects on human health. He also noted that the heart changes do not appear to be permanent.

Energy drinks are not bound by FDA guidelines for caffeine because they are often sold as a dietary supplement. However, most caffeinated sodas have about 71 milligrams per 12 ounces, whereas most energy drinks have anywhere from 160 mg to 500 mg per serving, according to an FDA statement made last year.

Several doctors signed and sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg last week calling for more regulations on the energy drink industry, saying these products should have no more caffeine than a typical soda. The letter was signed by doctors from leading medical schools including Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland School of Public Health.

Lawmakers also urged the FDA in December to convene an expert panel to discuss the effects of consumers´ caffeine consumption, and are actively pushing for stricter regulations on energy drinks.

The new report follows another by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released in January that suggests that the number of people who have sought emergency treatment after consuming energy drinks and other highly-caffeinated beverages has doubled nationwide during the past four years.

SAMHSA said that timeline follows closely the same period of time in which the energy drink industry surged in popularity across the country.

Their report showed that the number of ER visits involving consumption of energy drinks shot up to more than 20,000 in 2011 from 10,000 in 2007. It further reported that most of those cases involved teenagers and young adults.

Shortly after the SAMHSA report was published, the American Beverage Association (ABA) posted a response saying the report had no solid data on the overall health of the patients, what symptoms brought them into the ER, or their overall caffeine intake.

The ABA declined to comment on the latest report.

The report was presented on Thursday (Mar 21) at the American Heart Association´s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions in New Orleans.