Energy drink consumption has grown exponentially over the past five to ten years. Sales are increasing at double the rate of total carbonated beverage sales.
The drinks are primarily targeted at the vulnerable youth and young adult market with aggressive advertising and marketing. And the potential medical complications of ingesting such drinks are becoming apparent, to both cardiologists and other health specialists.
So what is in energy drinks that could potentially trigger cardiac events? These drinks typically comprise of high levels of caffeine, guarana, taurine and sugar, with various other amino acids often also included. Indeed, at the time of this article being published, there’s no regulation on ingredients included in energy drinks in Australia or the United States.
The combined levels of caffeine in these energy drinks are much higher than a standard cup of coffee. And adverse events and complications from energy drinks largely arise from their caffeine content.
What’s more, energy drinks are intended to be drunk fast, and more recently, have been condensed to smaller volumes – so-called “energy shots”. These are freely available in petrol stations and other convenience stores.
So what are the medical effects of energy drinks? Based on currently available peer-reviewed scientific literature, there are many. From a cardiac perspective, there are three main effects: an increase in heart rate, an increase in blood pressure, and evidence of increasing blood viscosity that can lead to clots forming in the heart and beyond.
Most recently, three independent cases have been described in the medical literature where consumption of energy drinks led to catastrophic consequences, including cardiac rhythm disturbances and cardiac arrest.