It’s the added ingredients in energy drinks—not the caffeine – that’s harmful to health, based on a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Conducted at the David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base in California, this study compared the short-term health effects of energy drinks vs. drinks with caffeine only.
Energy drinks have been associated with increased emergency department visits and deaths, raising questions about their safety. Since many studies have shown that in small doses (400 mg), caffeine alone is generally safe for the heart, experts wonder if it’s the added ingredients in energy drinks that may be the problem.
The recent study included 18 young, healthy volunteers who consumed caffeinated beverages at two separate office visits. During one visit, participants consumed a standard 32-ounce energy drink that contained 320 mg of caffeine, plus added ingredients such as sugar, vitamin B2, guarana extract and taurine. Participants then had their blood pressure and heart activity monitored for 24 hours.
One week later, participants repeated the process after drinking a “control” drink containing 320 mg of caffeine only.
After analysis, researchers found that the energy drinks had notable negative effects on the heart compared to caffeine-only beverages. While both caffeinated drinks raised blood pressure initially, systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) remained significantly higher in the energy drink group after six hours compared to those in the caffeine-only group. Participants were also more likely to experience an irregular heart rhythm within two hours of consuming an energy drink than a caffeine-only drink.
The next step, according to authors, is to further evaluate the safety of non-caffeine ingredients in energy drinks. It’s possible that the proprietary energy blends contained in energy drinks may be associated with increased blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms. Given the increase in hospital visits associated with energy drinks, it’s possible that the added ingredients are to blame. With further research, experts hope to better assess the ingredients in energy drinks to help ensure their safety for consumers.