In 2017, a South Carolina teenager collapsed during the school day and was rushed to the hospital. He didn’t survive. According to the coroner, his autopsy could have remained a mystery, since he was a healthy, young teen. However, his friends had informed authorities that the boy drank a dangerous amount of caffeine during lunch. The caffeine ultimately stopped his heart. In 2015, the World Health Organization labeled energy drinks as a danger to public health. This boy consumed more caffeine than most do in a day — but can energy drinks actually lead to heart problems?
How dangerous are energy drinks? | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Energy drinks increase the heart rate
Energy drinks are loaded with caffeine and sugar. Some energy drinks contain as many as 500 milliliters of caffeine. (For reference, one cup of coffee contains about 100 milliliters.) When you consume an energy drink, it takes about 10 minutes for your heart rate and blood pressure to begin rising. The average heart rate is anywhere from 60 to 100 beats per minute. A person’s heart rate is unique to them, so the amount it’s affected by an energy drink varies. But if you’re consistently experiencing rates of more than 100 beats per minute while consuming energy drinks, you should discontinue use.
About one hour after consuming an energy drink, your energy levels will already start to drop. Depending on your activity, this may cause you to consume an additional drink. However, caffeine levels in your system are still very high. Consuming another drink might bring those energy levels up, but it will put double the amount of caffeine in your body, which your liver is already working hard to break down.
A new study says energy drinks may damage blood vessels
In addition to increasing your heart rate, WebMD reports that a new study shows energy drinks might actually damage your blood vessels — even after drinking only one. The study was small; it only included 44 young, healthy students in their 20s. The study checked blood vessel health before and after the students consumed energy drinks. 90 minutes after the drink was consumed, researchers saw that students’ blood vessel health was much worse than prior to consuming the drink. Researchers blamed the difference on the ingredients in the energy drink: High levels of caffeine, plenty of sugar, taurine, and certain herbals.
Consuming an energy drink before exercising may be dangerous
Many young people consume energy drinks prior to working out. But this new study sheds light on the dangers of doing so. As you work out, your body gets more exhausted, requiring more oxygenated blood to keep it functioning properly. When blood vessel function isn’t at its best, it means oxygenated blood has a harder time traveling through the body. If this happens, the body isn’t getting what it needs to keep up with such a hard workout, so the heart must work much harder to try and pump more and blood throughout the body.
Over time, the cardiovascular system may become permanently damaged due to consumption of energy drinks. However, experts note that this study is small, which means it can’t be used as definitive proof that energy drinks will damage the cardiovascular system. More research needs to be done, but it is an unsettling discovery.
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