This super popular drink is taking years off your life

Everyone needs a little boost from time to time. However, if your go-to caffeinated beverage is an energy drink, the findings of a new study just released by Texas A&M University may be of serious interest to you. 

After exposing groups of lab-grown human heart cells to various commercially available energy drinks, researchers report the cells showed an increased beat rate and other troubling indicators that some of the beverages were negatively impacting cardiac functions. In other words, the study’s authors conclude that some energy drinks appear to harm the heart’s muscle cells.

“Because the consumption of these beverages is not regulated and they are widely accessible over the counter to all age groups, the potential for adverse health effects of these products is a subject of concern and needed research,” says study leader Dr. Ivan Rusyn, a professor in the Veterinary Integrative Biosciences (VIBS) Department at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, in a release. “Indeed, the consumption of energy drinks has been associated with a wide range of adverse health effects in humans, many of them are concerning the effects on the heart.”

As Dr. Rusyn alludes to, this isn’t the first research project to find a connection between energy drinks and less than ideal heart health outcomes. Energy drink consumption has been linked in the past to irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, and cardiomyopathy, just to name a few.

Of course, all of that hasn’t impeded the sales and popularity of such beverages. A staple across college campuses from California to Manhattan, energy drinks are particularly popular among teens and adolescents. For instance, it’s estimated that in 2018 global sales of energy drinks exceeded $53 billion.

“We also hope that the Food and Drug Administration takes a closer look at whether these beverages may need to be carefully reviewed with respect to possible labeling of their adverse health effects, and whether certain age groups and susceptible subpopulations should be advised against consumption of these beverages,” Dr. Rusyn comments.

Does all this mean that one or two energy drinks during a late night or early morning will immediately lead to heart disease? No, but at the same time, anyone with a pre-existing heart condition should keep these findings in mind the next time they’re browsing convenience store aisles.

To start, the research team picked out and analyzed the contents of 17 widely-available energy drinks. Then, lab-grown human heart cells were exposed to each beverage separately. 

That initial analysis of ingredients allowed researchers to form an educated guess of which substances may be causing these negative heart developments. Based on a series of mathematical models, researchers zeroed in on three substances: theophylline, adenine, and azelate.

While this is a great start, study authors admit more work is ultimately needed to better understand how exactly these substances may or may not be influencing drinkers’ hearts. 

“This study shows that some of the tested energy drinks may have effects on human cardiomyocytes, and these data corroborate other studies in humans,” Dr. Rusyn concludes. “Therefore, we hope that the consumers will carefully weigh the performance-enhancing benefits of these beverages versus the emerging data that suggests that they may have real adverse effects.”

The full study can be found here, published in Food and Chemical Toxicology.