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Energy Drinks Create Unhealthy Increase in Blood Pressure & Heart Rate -- And Pose These Other Risks

Over 30 percent of teenagers, and 34 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds, consume energy drinks on a regular basis, according to a report by the Marin Institute. These drinks are heavily marketed to teens as a harmless way to boost energy, but in reality they've been linked to serious health effects.

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol can mask the effects of alcohol, allowing you to drink more and increasing your risk of alcohol-related injuries and harm.

Still, in 2006 alone, energy drinks brought in more than $3.2 billion in sales, and up to 500 new energy drink products were introduced worldwide. And sales continue to grow, despite the largely unpublicized risks.

The obvious danger stems from the high levels of caffeine (some energy drinks contain up to 300 mg of caffeine, compared with 80 mg for a typical cup of coffee), which can lead to:

  • Increased anxiety and panic attacks

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Bowel irritability

  • Insomnia

  • Increased gastric acid

Meanwhile, ingesting 500 mg or more of caffeine (the amount easily ingested in four to eight servings of typical energy drinks) can lead to caffeine intoxication that can cause:

  • Vomiting

  • Sweating

  • Palpitations

  • Chest mains

  • Neurological symptoms

  • Diarrhea

  • Insomnia

However, there are even more concerning risks surrounding these drinks that parents and teens need to be aware of.

Alcohol and Energy Drinks: A Dangerous Mix

Energy drinks are commonly used as mixers for alcoholic drinks in bars and nightclubs, and there are now new pre-mixed alcoholic energy drinks on the market.

The dangerous combination of mixing energy drinks, a stimulant, with alcohol, a depressant, has proven deadly.

"It is scary to think that these energy drinks are being used as a mixer with vodka and whiskey," said David Pearson, a researcher in the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University. "You are just overloading the body with heavy stimulants and heavy depressants."

The resulting mix can lead to cardiopulmonary and cardiovascular failure.

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Meanwhile, researchers from North Carolina's Wake Forest University revealed that mixing alcohol and energy drinks increases students' risk of harm.

After surveying over 4,000 U.S. students, they found that those who drank alcoholic energy drink cocktails were more likely to:

  • Suffer injuries

  • Require medical help

  • Travel with a drunk driver

  • Get into trouble over sex

These harmful effects occurred because the energy drinks masked much of the alcohol's intoxicating effects, which allowed students to drink for longer periods.

"Students whose motor skills, visual reaction times, and judgment impaired by alcohol may not perceive that they are intoxicated as readily when they're also ingesting a stimulant," said lead researcher Dr Mary Claire O'Brien. "Only the symptoms of drunkenness are reduced -- but not the drunkenness. They can't tell if they're drunk, they can't tell if someone else is drunk. So they get hurt, or they hurt someone else."

Dangers to People With Heart Disease or High Blood Pressure

Drinking two cans a day of an energy drink is enough to increase your blood pressure and heart rate, according Wayne State University researchers.

In a study of 15 healthy volunteers who drank two energy drinks a day for seven days:

  • Maximum systolic blood pressure increased by 7.9 percent on day one and 9.6 percent on day seven

  • Diastolic blood pressure increased by 7 percent on day one and 7.8 percent on day seven

  • Heart rate increased by 7.8 percent on day one and 11 percent on day seven

"This occurred while participants were sitting in chairs watching movies," said James Kalus, Pharm.D., senior manager of Patient Care Services at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, who led the study. "The increases in heart rate and blood pressure weren't enough for something to happen acutely, but a person on hypertension medication or who has cardiovascular disease may not respond as well."

The adverse effects were significant enough that the researchers recommended people with high blood pressure or heart disease avoid energy drinks.

However, if you're a teenager or a parent of a teen, you may want to limit energy drinks regardless. The evidence on their dangers continue to mount, and it appears that even a simple cup of coffee is a safer bet if you're looking for an energy boost. Better yet, if you're feeling a little sluggish, you can try these eight healthy foods that will provide you with a major energy kick.

Recommended Reading

Dextromethorphan (DXM), the Most Abused & Dangerous OTC Drug: The Six Signs of Abuse

The Dangers of "Junk Sleep", and What You Can Do About It


The Marin Institute: Alcohol, Energy Drinks and Youth: A Dangerous Mix

Medical News Today November 7, 2007

BBC News November 5, 2007

Science Daily November 16, 2001

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