A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Steer clear of energy drinks to protect your heart

Man opening up an energy drink can

Energy drinks can cause high blood pressure and serious heart rhythm problems.

You’ll want to read this if you depend on energy drinks to get through the day.

These popular beverages can raise blood pressure and cause serious irregular heart rhythms, according to Dr. M. Diaa Alaoua, a Marshfield Clinic cardiologist.

Those are good reasons to think twice before chugging an energy drink.

More than the sum of their parts

The combination of caffeine, taurine and guarana in energy drinks can cause heart problems, Alaoua said.

Caffeine is the base for energy drinks. Some drinks have 80 milligrams of caffeine – about the same as a cup of coffee – while others have up to 350 milligrams per can.

Taurine is an amino acid naturally found in our bodies and meat and fish we eat. Having 1-3 grams of supplemental taurine is safe but the health effects of consuming more aren’t clear.

Guarana is an herbal supplement made from seeds that are high in caffeine. It’s essentially extra caffeine in your drink.

The problem isn’t any of these ingredients alone. It’s their synergistic effect, Alaoua said. That means the effect of the ingredients is magnified when you combine them.

How energy drinks can harm your heart

Elevated blood pressure is the most common problem energy drinks cause. High blood pressure increases heart attack and stroke risk, making it a “silent killer,” Alaoua said.

Energy drinks can trigger irregular heart rhythm. Arrhythmia may be as simple as a few skipped beats or serious as atrial fibrillation, when your heart goes out of rhythm for a long time and at a fast rate.

“The extreme effect of energy drinks is cardiac arrest,” Alaoua said. “It’s rare, but it can happen. These people were drinking more than one energy drink a day every day for weeks.”

Heart conditions and energy drinks don’t mix

Avoid energy drinks if you have a heart condition or a family history of heart problems. They can worsen your symptoms or cause onset of symptoms of a condition that hasn’t affected you before.

Never combine energy drinks and alcohol

“Alcohol by itself raises blood pressure and irritates the heart’s electrical system,” Alaoua said. “Adding it to another substance that has the same effects increases risk of heart problems.”

Caffeine in energy drinks masks the effects of alcohol by making a person feel more alert and coordinated than he really is. He may drink more and take risks like drunken driving, putting himself and others in danger.

Read labels, limit consumption

“Energy drinks are not healthful,” Alaoua said. “Avoiding them is best. If you insist on using them, choose drinks with the least caffeine and taurine.”

Limit your risk for negative health effects by following these recommendations:

  • Avoid drinks with more than 80-90 milligrams of caffeine.
  • Limit serving size to 8 ounces.
  • Don’t drink more than one serving per day.
  • Don’t consume energy drinks every day.
  • Avoid drinking other caffeinated beverages like coffee at the same time.

Stop using energy drinks if you feel dizzy or have chest pain or heart palpitations. Besides protecting your heart, you’ll sleep better and feel less anxious.

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