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Energy drinks are often the go-to for people wanting to tackle tiredness, however, new research suggests these drinks could be linked to serious conditions.

The beverages often contain high levels of sugar and caffeine. Doctors have now warned that they may trigger a life-threatening condition requiring emergency treatment.

Energy drinks contain caffeine ranging from 80mg to 300mg per serving, compared with 100mg found in a cup of coffee.

Many of them also contain other additional ingredients, such as taurine and guarana, which are thought to alter heart rate, blood pressure and other heart functions.

The popular drinks can potentially disrupt the heart’s electrical system, increasing the risk of abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia) which lead to severe health consequences such as a sudden cardiac arrest – where the heart stops beating.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in the US looked at the medical data of 144 patients who had survived a cardiac arrest following emergency treatment. Results found that seven of them, aged between 20 and 42, had consumed an energy drink some time before the life-threatening event, with six requiring electrical shock treatment and one needing manual resuscitation.

Doctors advised caution as energy drinks may trigger life-threatening conditions in patients with genetic heart diseases (Yui Mok/PA)
Doctors advised caution as energy drinks may trigger life-threatening conditions in patients with genetic heart diseases (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)

Peter Schwartz, of the Centre for Cardiac Arrhythmias of Genetic Origin and Laboratory of Cardiovascular Genetics, in Milan, Italy, wrote in an accompanying editorial: “Critics might say of these findings, ‘it’s just an association by chance’.

“We, as well as the Mayo Clinic group, are perfectly aware that there is no clear and definitive evidence that energy drinks indeed cause life-threatening arrhythmias and that more data are necessary, but we would be remiss if we were not sounding the alarm.”

The two main stimulants in fizzy energy drinks are caffeine and sugar, so what exactly is that doing to our bodies?

“Caffeine increases the heart rate, increases concentration, keeps people awake for longer and prevents them from going to sleep,” explains Dr Belinda Griffiths from The Fleet Street Clinic.

“Caffeine can be good for adults. A lot of studies are saying that two coffees or more a day, depending on the amount of caffeine in each drink, might be beneficial for heart disease.”

However, refined sugar – especially in the quantities found in energy drinks – is not healthy at all.

“We can quite happily manage without it, we get enough sugar from everything else that we eat and drink,” says Griffiths.

“It increases blood glucose, gives a short burst of energy and then a drop afterwards, which can affect your mood, and also make you feel increasingly hungry afterwards [meaning] you might want to eat more.”

Researchers warn energy drink lovers to reduce their intake of the caffeinated beverages (Alamy/PA)
Researchers warn energy drink lovers to reduce their intake of the caffeinated beverages (Alamy/PA)

London-based nutritionist Beanie Robinson, founder of The Health Space, says anyone looking to wean themselves off energy drinks should consider switching to fizzy water.

The nutritionist says: “I don’t think we want to be relying on energy drinks for energy, I encourage clients to drink filtered water – this is what gives us energy.

“Consuming a high amount of energy drinks is exposure to caffeine, artificial flavourings and sweeteners that can affect our energy and gut levels.

“If you love an energy drink every now and again, it probably isn’t going to do any damage, however, there are better alternatives which avoid sugar and caffeine.”

She also recommends adding a squeeze of lemon, lime, cucumber or mint to still or fizzy water, to give it extra flavour.



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