Energy Drinks Under Suspicion

Universidad de Buenos Aires - Facultad de Farmacia y Bioquímica

March 31, 2014 | 7 ′ 38 ′′


Energy Drinks Under Suspicion


In the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America data was presented about how energy drinks modify the heart’s function after one hour of being consumed. In Argentina, the habit of drinking them, frequently mixed with alcohol, is increasing. That is why specialists analyze the consequences of the intake of this kind of drinks whose components increase the heart’s left ventricle contraction rate.

A research of the University of Bonn, Germany, presented in the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (2013), showed that the heart alters its normal pumping parameters, even in people who have consumed just one unit of the so called energy drinks, after one hour of having taken them.

Although the data is preliminary and the first which shows a relation between the consumption of these drinks and their possible effects, the scientists enquire on what could be the long term consequences of consuming many daily units of these drinks.

In 2013, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the US informed that the number of patients treated in emergency services hospitals due to the consumption of energy drinks increased from 10,068 in 2007 to 20,783 in 2011. Most of them were between 18 and 25 years old and then the group was from 26 to 39 years old. It is also worrying the increment of consumption among early teenagers and children.

In Argentina, the habit of consuming these drinks has increased and their mixture with alcohol (in general vodka or champagne) is alarming, especially in the so called “previas”, that is, in the meetings teenagers make before going out during the weekends. The increase can also be noticed in the local discos and pubs menus which combine energy drinks with different alcoholic drinks. Likewise, the students drink them to “concentrate” during exams times and those who practice sports to improve their performance.

Toxicologists of the Universidad de Buenos Aires said that it is interesting not only finding out about the effects that the caffeine added to these products could have, but also the addition of taurine and glucuronolactone.

Energy drinks increase significantly the left ventricle’s contraction rate when it is measured one hour after the participants of the study (healthy Young people) drank one unit of them, according to what Dr. Jonas Dörner, of the University of Bonn, Germany, informed in the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. “The left ventricle is the heart’s engine. It receives oxygenated blood from the lungs and pumps it to the aorta which, at the same time, distributes it to the rest of the body”, said Dörner in an interview with BBC Word.

“It is known -said the German scientist- that taurine and caffeine have heart contractility stimulating effects”. And he added “But what surprised us are the differences (showed by the images taken before and after consuming energy drinks) despite the concentrations of taurine and caffeine used in the study were not high”. They used 32 milligrams every 100 milliliters of caffeine and 400 milligrams every 100 milliliters of taurine; that is, very similar concentrations to the ones contained in the most consumed energy drinks.

The research team worked in the first stage with healthy volunteers (20 males and 11 females), whose heart’s function was evaluated by magnetic resonance with a new technique known as CSPAMM (complementary spatial modulation of magnetization). They found significant modifications in contractility (peak strain and peak systolic strain rates). Also, as part of the research, the team of the University of Bonn gave the participants a drink which had only caffeine -in this case ice coffee- in the same concentration than energy drinks tested in the previous stage. To dismiss the possibility that it had residual effect, these tests were carried out between 2 and 3 weeks after the first one. In this case, the researchers did not find significant differences in the heart function before and after consuming just caffeine.

“There is no scientific evidence which consolidates the safe use of these drinks. It s possible that interactions which haven’t been studied yet occur between energy drinks constituents. There might be a possible interaction between caffeine, taurine and alcohol; this marks the need to study them in humans and especially in exercise or strong physical activity conditions; besides, it is important to notice the dehydration it causes”, remarks Dr. Edda Villaamil Lepori, permanent Professor of the subject Toxicology and Legal Chemistry of the Facultad de Farmacia y Bioquímica of the Universidad de Buenos Aires.

In 2005, Villaamil was already worried by the increase of consumption in Argentina and published a long report about the topic in the informative organ of the Asociación Toxicológica Argentina. At that time, a study of the consultant ACNielsen showed that after September, 2003 until January, 2004, the growth of consumption in Argentina had been near 300%. Everything indicates that the tendency has maintained. In the world market, this segment of products moves around 2,500 million dollars per year.

“It is well known that taurine and alcohol inhibit the release of the anti-diuretic hormone -vasopressin- so they can act in an additive way over the loss of water and sodium in the organism in short periods. As a consequence, quick dehydration can occur with the possibility of suffering cardiac shock”,

“Likewise -explains Villaamil to Argentina Investiga- the concentration of glucuronolatones contributed by energy drinks is between 2.5 and 30 times the maximum doses contributed by food. That is to say, in case of drinking a can, we are consuming 2.5 more times than what we normally incorporate with the diet”. She adds: “The thing is that there is no data about the consequences for health to consume high amounts of glucuronolactones. Energy drinks are freely sold, however, experts from many countries do not consider them so harmless as producers sustain”.

On the other hand, Jonas Dörner expressed that the results they found in heart contractility are not known to affect -and if they do, how- everyday activities or athletic performance. “We still don’t know to what degree the consumption of energy drinks can lead to unfavorable heart events, such as heart attacks or arrhythmias”, said the German expert, especially because the German researchers studied healthy young people.

In the meantime, scientists recommend that children and people with diagnosed arrhythmias do not consume these drinks, given that the alterations in contractility can lead to the generation of arrhythmias.



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