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Energy Drinks Linked to Cardiac Arrest

Energy drinks may trigger life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias in patients with genetic heart diseases, a new study suggests.

Approximately one-third of Americans aged 18 to 49 consume energy drinks. These drinks contain from 80 mg to 300 mg of caffeine per serving, compared with 100 mg in an 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee.

Most of these drinks also contain stimulating ingredients like taurine and guarana, which are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Highly stimulating and unregulated ingredients are thought to alter heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac contractility, and cardiac repolarization in a potentially pro-arrhythmic manner.

Arrhythmias, or irregular heart rhythms, may cause cardiac arrest, which is a fatal abrupt loss of heart function and is often fatal.

A new study published in the journal Heart Rhythm included 144 sudden cardiac arrest survivors who were examined at the Mayo Clinic. Of those, 5% had consumed one or more energy drinks in close proximity to their cardiac event.

The study, however, does not prove that energy drinks directly cause cardiac arrest.

"An increasing number of substances in the standard diet are found to have unwanted cardiac effects, prompting the consideration of a novel subcategory in a patient's clinical history intake: arrhythmogenic foods. Energy drinks fall in this category," Ehud Chorin, M.D., Ph.D., Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, and a co-author of the accompanying editorial commentary said in a statement.

The researchers also investigated the type of cardiac event and other known stressors linked with genetic heart disease-associated cardiac arrhythmias, such as exercise.

Researchers say unusual consumption of energy drinks combined with other risk factors like sleep deprivation or dehydration could have created a 'perfect storm,' leading to sudden cardiac arrest in the participants.

How much caffeine is too much?

Healthy adults should not consume more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is four or five cups of coffee, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The symptoms of caffeine overconsumption may include insomnia, jitters, anxiousness, fast heart rate, upset stomach, nausea, headache, and a feeling of unhappiness.

Toxic effects, like seizures, can be observed with rapid consumption of around 1,200 milligrams of caffeine.

Energy drink marketing often targets children and youth through advertising campaigns and sponsorship of events such as snowboarding and skateboarding competitions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that stimulant substances in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents. In 2011, nearly 1,500 teenagers aged 12 to 17 years went to the emergency room for an energy drink-related emergency.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risks of energy drinks consumption include the following:

  • Dehydration
  • Heart complications, such as irregular heartbeat and heart failure
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia

A 2023 review on the energy drinks' impact on the body highlighted multiple risks, such as:

  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Neurological and behavioral changes
  • Acute organ inflammation, including the liver, stomach, pancreas, and kidneys
  • Cases of rare dermatitis or autoimmune disorders

Energy drinks should not replace sleep, water, and nutritious meals. You should also avoid consuming more than 400 mg of caffeine per day, especially if you have chronic conditions.

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