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Energy drinks put pressure on your heart
December 4, 2013, 10:28 am

High caffeine drink can cause rapid heart rate, palpitations, blood pressure spike and death

This is your heart on an energy drink, and it’s contracting significantly faster than it was before you opened that can full of liquid stimulant.

So says a team of cardiac radiologists who wanted to figure out why energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster, 5-Hour Energy and Rockstar are sending tens of thousands of people to emergency rooms each year, including nearly 21,000 in the US alone, according to a 2013 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

A typical energy drink can have up to three times as much caffeine as coffee or soda, according to Dr Jonas Dorner, a resident at the University of Bonn in Germany and member of the research team.

High caffeine consumption can cause rapid heart rate, palpitations, a spike in blood pressure and even seizures or death, he said in a statement. Taurine is also a major ingredient in energy drinks, Dorner said.

To get more detail on exactly how energy drinks caused medical problems, Dorner and his colleagues imaged the hearts of 15 men and three women with a 1.5-Tesla MRI scanner. Then the volunteers drank a beverage containing high amounts of caffeine and taurine and had their hearts scanned again.

One hour after consuming the experimental energy drink, the researchers found that radiologic measurements of heart strain were significantly higher than at baseline.

Specifically, the team measured the peak strain and peak systolic strain rate of the heart’s left ventricle, which is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood from the lungs to the aorta and then on to the rest of the body. Both showed changes that were too big to be due to chance. In addition, the team found a small change in peak diastolic strain rate, but it wasn’t large enough to be statistically significant.

In the language of blood pressure, the systolic measurement quantifies the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle contracts and diastolic measurement quantifies pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle is relaxed between heartbeats.

The researchers also looked for changes in heart rate and blood pressure before and after volunteers consumed the energy drink, but the readings in both cases were essentially the same, according to the study’s abstract.

The experimental energy drink contained 400 milligrams of taurine and 32 milligrams of caffeine per 100 millilitres of beverage, and the precise amount given to volunteers varied according to their size.

Each got 168 millilitres per square meter of their body surface area. A typical man has a body surface area of 1.9 square metres and a typical woman has a BSA of about 1.7 square metres, according to studies of British cancer patients.

The results were presented Monday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. The researchers noted that their study is ongoing.

“We don’t know exactly how or if this greater contractility of the heart impacts daily activities or athletic performance,” Dorner said. “We need additional studies to understand this mechanism and to determine how long the effect of the energy drink lasts.”


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