As global sales of energy drinks soar beyond $50 billion a year, more research adds to the growing pile of science linking the drinks to health complications. The latest suggests the high levels of caffeine in energy drinks may lead to cardiac complications, including abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).
The case report, which appears in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, centers on a 28-year old man who came to the ER vomiting blood with a very fast heart beat, according to a release about the work from the journal. An electrocardiogram revealed an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation: a common type of arrhythmia that can lead to serious complications if sustained. Further tests showed no other heart problems. The patient routinely drank two Monster energy drinks (with a total caffeine content of 320 mg) and two beers.
Although several factors might have contributed to the patient’s atrial fibrillation, lead author Maryam Satari, MD, of the University of Florida, Gainesville, write: "We believe that energy drink consumption played a key role." They point out the 160 mg caffeine content of a Monster energy drink is about four times higher than in a caffeinated soft drink.
The doctors reviewed related medicine researchers and identified at least eight similar cases. In their report, they discuss several mechanism by which the high caffeine content of the drinks can lead to cardiovascular events, including how other ingredients, like taurine, might heighten the effects of caffeine. In a small Mayo clinic study published earlier this year in JAMA, researchers found that just one energy drink spiked blood pressure and stress hormones that researchers believe could “predispose an increased risk of cardiac events.”
In their report, Satari and her colleagues encourage health care providers to ask about energy drink intake in otherwise healthy young patients with unexplained arrhythmias.