Energy drinks have become some of the most popular beverages on the market, with between 30 and 50 percent of teenagers and young adults consuming them, according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics.1 But, according to that same study, those drinks can come with significant negative health consequences, especially when consumed in large quantities.
Physicians, medical groups, parent organizations and government agencies have become alarmed in recent years after a number of incidences related to energy drink consumption led to severe health complications and even death. According to a recent report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, emergency room visits directly linked to energy drink consumption more than doubled, from approximately 10,000 to more than 20,000, between 2007 and 2011.
That significant rise is accompanied by reports of deaths that have occurred after people drank heavy amounts of some popular versions of the product. The Food and Drug Administration is investigating five fatalities, including a 14-year-old girl in Maryland, and one heart attack that may have been brought on by excessive consumption of energy drinks.2
The recent study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, specifically tested the effects of energy drinks on the heart rates of healthy young adults. It found that beverages high in caffeine and taurine – the two main active ingredients in energy drinks – led to a significant increase in heart contraction rates an hour after consumption.
“Until now, we haven’t known exactly what effect these energy drinks have on the function of the heart,” radiology resident Jonas Dörner, M.D., who works with Daniel K. Thomas, M.D., the study’s principal investigator, said in a statement. “There are concerns about the products’ potential adverse side effects on heart function, especially in adolescents and young adults, but there is little or no regulation of energy drink sales.”3
That lack of regulation, combined with the study’s findings, is especially worrisome considering the fact that energy drink sales have reached $9 billion in the U.S. per year. Health care professionals – including physicians, certified medical assistants and pharmacy technicians – may want to alert their patients, especially teenagers and younger adults, to these findings as a way of making them aware of the potential dangers of consuming energy drinks.
1 Staff Reporter, “Energy Drinks Linked to Altered Heart Function,” Nature World News, Dec. 2, 2013. http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/5147/20131202/energy-drinking-linked-altered-heart-function.htm
2 DeNoon, Daniel J., “FDA: 5 Death Reports for Monster Energy Drinks,” WebMD, Oct. 23, 2012. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20121023/death-reports-monster-energy-drink
3 Press Release, “Cardiac MRI Reveals Energy Drinks Alter Heart Function,” Radiological Society of North America, Dec. 2, 2013. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-12/rson-cmr112113.php