The production of energy drinks has grown into a multi-billion pound industry that continues to grow, while remaining largely unregulated.
Now a new study, presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, shows that healthy adults who consume energy drinks have “significantly increased” heart contraction rates an hour later.
The study notes that although the largest consumers of energy drinks have traditionally been teens and young adults, people across all demographics have now begun to consume energy drinks in recent years.
“Until now, we haven’t known exactly what affect these energy drinks have on the function of the heart,” says study author Dr. Jonas Dörner, from the University of Bonn.
“Usually energy drinks contain taurine and caffeine as their main pharmacological ingredients. The amount of caffeine is up to three times higher than in other caffeinated beverages like coffee or cola.”
He adds that side effects associated with consuming a large amount of caffeine include a rapid heart rate, palpitations, rise in blood pressure and even seizures or death.
For their recent study, which is currently ongoing, the researchers measured the effect of energy drinks on heart function using cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Study participants consist of 15 healthy men and three healthy women, with an average age of 27.5 years.
The team took cardiac MRIs of the participants both before and 1 hour after they consumed an energy drink, which contained 400 mg/100 ml taurine and 32 mg/100 ml caffeine.
Results show that compared with the images taken before the participants consumed the energy drinks, the post-beverage MRIs showed that they had increased peak strain and peak systolic strain rates in the heart’s left ventricle.
The researchers note that the left ventricle receives oxygenated blood from the lungs, which it then pumps to the aorta for distribution to the rest of the body.
Though the team observed this significant change, they say they do not yet know whether it impacts daily activities or athletic performance.
”We need additional studies to understand this mechanism and to determine how long the effect of the energy drink lasts,” says Dr. Dörner.
The team notes that they did not find any major differences in heart rate, blood pressure or the amount of blood pumped from the left ventricle after the participants consumed the energy drink.
However, Dr. Dörner says their results show that consuming energy drinks does have a “short-term impact on cardiac contractility.”
The researchers say further studies are needed to assess the long-term effects of energy drink consumption, as well as any effects these drinks have on people with heart disease.
Despite the lack of knowledge about long-term risks, the team recommends that children and people with cardiac arrhythmias refrain from consuming energy drinks, as contractility changes could trigger arrhythmias.