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Energy Drinks Can Harm Heart Function According to Cardiac MRI

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Energy Drinks Can Harm Heart Function According to Cardiac MRI

Based on a study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), healthy people who drink energy drinks that are high in caffeine and taurine had considerably higher heart contraction rates only one hour later.

"Until now, we haven't known exactly what effect these energy drinks have on the function of the heart. There are concerns about the products' potential adverse side effects on heart function, especially in adolescents and young adults, but there is little or no regulation of energy drink sales,” said radiology resident Jonas Dörner, M.D., of the cardiovascular imaging section at the University of Bonn, Germany, which is led by the study's principal investigator, Daniel K. Thomas, M.D.

Energy drinks are part of a multi-billion dollar industry that is widening its reach; for as research shows that while teenagers and young adults have been the majority consumers, in recent years more people from different demographics have begun to consumer energy drinks.

A 2013 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stated that in the U.S. from 2007 to 2011, the number of emergency department visits related to energy drink consumption nearly doubled, increasing from 10,068 to 20,783. Most of the cases were categorized among patients aged 18 to 25, followed by those aged 26 to 39.

"Usually energy drinks contain taurine and caffeine as their main pharmacological ingredients. The amount of caffeine is up to three times higher than in other caffeinated beverages like coffee or cola. There are many side effects known to be associated with a high intake of caffeine, including rapid heart rate, palpitations, rise in blood pressure and, in the most severe cases, seizures or sudden death,” said Dörner.

For this ongoing study, Dörner and his team utilized cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the impact of energy drink consumption on heart function in 18 healthy volunteers, including 15 men and three women with an average age of 27.5 years. Each of the volunteers received cardiac MRI before and one hour after consuming an energy drink containing taurine (400 mg/100 ml) and caffeine (32 mg/100 ml).

When compared to the baseline images, results of cardiac MRI performed one hour after the study participants consumed the energy drink showed notably increased peak strain and peak systolic strain rates (measurements for contractility) in the left ventricle of the heart. The heart's left ventricle takes in oxygenated blood from the lungs and pumps it to the aorta, which then delivers it throughout the rest of the body.

"We don't know exactly how or if this greater contractility of the heart impacts daily activities or athletic performance. We need additional studies to understand this mechanism and to determine how long the effect of the energy drink lasts,” said Dörner.

Additionally, the researchers found no major differences in heart rate, blood pressure, or the amount of blood ejected from the left ventricle of the heart between the volunteers' baseline and second MRI exams.

"We've shown that energy drink consumption has a short-term impact on cardiac contractility. Further studies are needed to evaluate the impact of long-term energy drink consumption and the effect of such drinks on individuals with heart disease,” said Dörner.

Dörner admits that while long-term risks to the heart from drinking energy drinks remain unknown, he advises that children, as well as people with known cardiac arrhythmias, should pass up energy drinks, because changes in contractility could prompt arrhythmias. He also suggets that additional study is required to address risks caused by the consumption of energy drinks in conjunction with alcohol.

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