In a world where working for longer hours is fast becoming the order of the day, it is not surprising that products that keep people awake and alert have rapidly become must-haves for millions of people, abandoning coffee for sweetened energy drinks, and the trend is growing across all age groups.
According to experts, energy drinks are soft drinks containing a high percentage of sugar, caffeine, or another stimulant, typically consumed during or after sporting activity or as a way of overcoming tiredness.
Researchers from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, along with collaborators from other institutions, have identified how energy drinks consumption affect the heart.
Energy drinks are the second most popular dietary supplement of choice for teenagers and young adults in the United States, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
Packed with caffeine and other ingredients, such as guarana, taurine, ginseng, and B vitamins, these drinks promise to boost concentration, improve physical performance, and reduce fatigue.
Ms. Ifeoma Akobi, pharmacist and CEO IBI specialties opined that, caffeine can be addictive. She said, moderate caffeine consumption poses no real risk to the general population. However she said people often abuse it. It is the unregulated use of energy drinks that become dangerous to one’s health.
The lead study author Sachin A. Shah, a professor of pharmacy practice at the University of the Pacific, involved in the study set up an experiment to track changes in heart rhythm and blood pressure after an individual consumed a popular energy drink.
The trials, which included 34 adults ranging in age from 18 to 40, split the volunteers into two groups and gave half of the participants’ one of two energy drinks while the others were given a placebo.
The volunteers were in a fasted state when they consumed the drinks in order to provide the most accurate data, and the scientists monitored both heart rhythm and blood pressure every 30 minutes following the start of the experiment. After four hours of monitoring, the trials concluded and the researchers crunched the numbers.
Not surprisingly, the researchers found that various heart metrics shifted significantly after an individual consumed one of the two energy drinks, but that should be fairly obvious. However, an important change was noted that could point to a cause of increased emergency room visits and health emergencies related to energy drink consumption, and it’s related to the time it takes for the heart to complete a single beat.
The time it takes for the heart’s chambers to contract and then return to a relaxed state is known as a QT interval. The speed at which a heartbeat occurs can be affected by overall heart rate, so doctors correct that factor using a measurement called QTc.
An elevated QTc is thought to be connected with serious heart problems including arrhythmias and even cardiac-related death.
The study shows that energy drinks dramatically changed the QTc figures, which were significantly higher than those who consumed the placebo drink.
The elevated QTc remained for as long as four hours after the drink was consumed.
Prof. Shah noted that it’s unclear what ingredient or combination of ingredients most affects the QTc number, and that further study is warranted.
The authors pointed to the study’s limitations. They asked the participants to drink a total of 32 ounces of energy drink or placebo, which limits how well the results translate to how people consume these products in their normal daily life.
The researchers also studied the volunteer’s heart rhythm and blood pressure for only 4 hours, which does not provide insights into the long-term effects or chronic exposure to energy drinks, and they only enrolled healthy volunteers in the study.
It is also important to mention that none of the participants’ experienced QTc intervals over 500 ms. In the paper, the authors explained that “Clinically, a QT/QTc interval over 500 ms or a change over 30 ms warrants careful monitoring.”
Nevertheless, Prof. Shah cautioned the public on the impact of energy drinks on their body, especially if they have other underlying health conditions.
Healthcare professionals should advise certain patient populations for example, people with underlying congenital or acquired long QT syndrome or high blood pressure to limit or monitor their consumption.