MAY 29, 2019 9:50 AM PDT

What Are the Risks of Consuming Energy Drinks in Large Quantities in Young Healthy Individuals?

WRITTEN BY: Dena Aruta

Energy drinks have large amounts of sugar, caffeine, and legal stimulants, including guarana, L-carnitine, and taurine that negatively impact the nervous system. These drinks are popular with adolescents and young adults because of the energy boost they get from them. While they increase alertness, energy, and attention span, they also cause a rise in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. The Centers for Disease Control report that, in 2011, 1,499 adolescents between ages 12-17 were seen in an ER due to energy drink-related emergencies. Are you aware that the number of schools that sell energy drinks in vending machines, school stores, and snack bars is as high as 11% and that 75% of school districts have no policies regulating the sale of these drinks? 

A team of researchers from the University of the Pacific performed a randomized controlled trial to determine the impact that energy drinks have on the electrocardiograms (ECGs) and the heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate of young, healthy volunteers. The market value of energy drinks is expected to exceed $61 billion by 2021; 30-50% of adolescents and 45% of deployed military are consuming these drinks. Many companies are promoting them as supplements that are beneficial for cognition and energy; however, the number of reports of detrimental cardiovascular and neurological adverse effects are increasing.

They have been associated with "cardiac arrest, myocardial infarction, spontaneous coronary dissection, and coronary vasospasm" as well as "increased platelet aggregation, increased systolic blood pressure (SBP), and QTc prolongation."

"We found an association between consuming energy drinks and changes in QT intervals and blood pressure that cannot be attributed to caffeine. We urgently need to investigate the particular ingredient or combination of ingredients in different types of energy drinks that might explain the findings seen in our clinical trial," said lead author Sachin A. Shah, Pharm.D., professor of pharmacy practice at University of the Pacific, Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Stockton, California.

It's apparent from this study that prolongation of the QTc interval and increased brachial and central blood pressure occur, but the long-term effects of chronic consumption of energy drinks have yet to be determined. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents not consume any energy drinks and requires collaboration among parents, school and nutrition staff, and coaches to monitor their use at home and on school grounds. 

About the Author
  • After earning my Bachelor of Science degree in biology/chemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (aka Va. Tech), I went on to complete clinical rotations in laboratory medicine at Roanoke Memorial Hospital. I spent the next 21 years working in healthcare as a clinical microbiologist. In 2015, I combined my fascination with medicine and passion for writing into a freelance career, and I haven't looked back. Even though my expertise is in microbiology and infectious diseases, I'm adept at writing about any medical topic. Being a freelance writer allows me to pursue a career where I can work at home with my two feline assistants, Luke and Grace. I'm a firm supporter of animal rights and volunteer for a local rescue during my free time. 
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