The high caffeine content of energy drinks may be responsible for causing heart problems in regular drinkers. Researchers from the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) have added more evidence to reports of energy drinks leading to cardiac complications. The new case report points out caffeine content in energy drinks can lead to arrhythmia, the abnormal heart rhythms.

“We suggest that arrhythmia could be a complication of energy drink consumption,” said Dr Maryam Sattari, the lead author and MD, MS, at the University of Florida.

Energy drinks have gained much popularity with the US sales of energy drinks in 2015 alone reaching more than $2.8 billion. The energy drinks industry promises to give the drinker a boost of energy but the major ingredient in these beverages is caffeine. These so-called nutritional boosters are not subject to caffeine limits or safety tests and labelling like in soft drinks.

According to the case report, a 28-year-old man was admitted to the emergency department after vomiting blood and an abnormally fast heart rate of 130 beats per minute. The man in question was also obese. When the physicians performed an electrocardiogram on the patient they found he had abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation which can result in critical complications if not controlled. Cardiovascular tests revealed the patient was not suffering from any other heart problems.

The patient revealed that he regularly drank two Monster energy drinks on a daily basis. Each dink contains 160 mg caffeine, so he drank a total of 320 mg of caffeine, along with two or three beers. This amount of caffeine is usually found in nearly 3-4 cups of coffee. Further examination showed there were no other apparent causes of arrhythmia, leading the doctors to believe that the consumption of energy drinks was mainly responsible for it.

Energy drink advertisements often target young people promoting increased alertness and enhanced physical performance upon consumption. In the search for optimum health energy drinks is the second most consumed product after dietary supplements by American teenager and younger adults. The US National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates a wide majority of energy drinkers are men between the ages of 18 and 34 years.

Medication administration was successful in resolving arrhythmia within 48 hours, but an endoscopy showed the episode had caused a tear in the stomach and esophagus which led to the vomiting of the blood. Taking into account caffeine can overstimulate stomach acids by increasing their production and secretions, it is frequently known to cause heart burn and tears. All of this further indicated towards an overdose of caffeine.

At the time of discharge, the patient was stable and a one-year follow-up showed no more symptoms of arrhythmia. The researchers have noted the amount of caffeine in the Monster energy drink is four times greater than even found in carbonated soft drinks, while the caffeine content of coffee differs greatly.

A review of previous medical records showed eight cases where the excessive consumption of Monster energy drink or Red Bull had caused adverse cardiovascular events. Another guilty ingredient found in a majority of energy drinks is ‘taurine’ which enhances the effects of caffeine making them more potent on the body. Other ingredients usually found in energy drinks include guarana (Brazilian form of caffeine), sugars, ginseng, synthetic vitamin B, glucuronolactone, yohimbe, carnitine, and bitter orange.

The researchers did point out that their results were “suggestive but not conclusive” where energy drinks and unexplained arrhythmias are concerned, but healthcare workers should not eliminate energy drinks as a possible cause of heart problems.

Caffeine And Health

Although there isn’t significant data on the effects of caffeine spiked energy drinks on the overall health, its adverse consequences should not be ignored. Evidence has shown energy drinks only temporarily enhance alertness and physical endurance, but do not improve strength or power of the body. Caffeine is basically a nervous system stimulant and it can temporarily make you feel attentive but does not actually boost energy.

Similarly, the long term effects of the short term vigilance caused by energy drinks may result in heart rhythm problems, increased blood flow and many blood vessel problems. The nervous system may also be damaged by regular energy drink consumption since high amounts of caffeine can lead to palpitations, anxiety, sleep problems, digestive problems and dehydration among others.

The daily limit of caffeine consumption without causing adverse health effects is set at 400mg, but it does not mean we have a free license to indulge in drinking huge amount of coffee or caffeine containing drinks as caffeine is present in many other food products that we eat on a daily basis.

Many of us may not know this but caffeine can be both addictive and fatal. Physical dependence upon caffeine called ‘caffeine tolerance’ can even result in withdrawal symptoms if consumption is stopped, while increased doses can lead to sudden death.