Heart dangers of caffeinated energy drinks

A recent report of a life-threatening heart attack in a young healthy male suggests care is needed with caffeinated energy drinks.

Caffeinated energy drinks are widely promoted to give people the buzz and lift needed to get through a tough day. One such tough day became even more “arresting” for a healthy 28-year-old male.

As reported in the Medical Journal of Australia (2009;190:41-43), a motocross rider looking for that little bit extra consumed up to 8 cans of caffeinated energy drink throughout a tough day of competition.

Around 3pm, 20 minutes after his last race, he collapsed. When paramedics arrived, his heart was fibrillating (fluttering). Emergency cardiac shock treatment and drug administration saved his life. He was rushed to the local hospital where he remained under close observation for the next 6 days.

Sudden deaths, or near misses, are extremely rare in people under the age of 40, especially in those without obvious risk factors. In this man’s case, the likely culprit was the ingestion of the caffeine. Each can contains 80mg of caffeine, giving a total dose of around 640mg over the 7-hour period.

Reports of life-threatening responses to caffeine at the level consumed by the rider are rare. However, some energy drinks, including the brand consumed by this man, also contain the amino acid taurine. Taurine, like caffeine, affects the functions of calcium in cells. Calcium is required for electrical signals, critical for heart function. The cardiologists who managed this person in recovery have suggested that perhaps the combination of high caffeine and taurine intake in susceptible people could trigger a heart attack.

With the same levels of caffeine in each drink as an espresso coffee, caffeinated energy drinks pack a real punch. They are not an ideal substitute for sports drinks (or even plain water) in providing effective hydration. — CHOICE Health Reader, March 2009