In a paper published in the International Journal of Cardiology, Adelaide University researchers learnt that more than one-third of patients under the age of 40 attending hospital emergency departments with heart palpitations had recently consumed an energy drink.
Scott Willoughby, who co-authored the paper, said that 70% had taken some sort of energy drink in their lifetime. Eight had consumed more than five energy drinks in the previous 24 hours, and one had even consumed 12 cans with alcohol.
“Those patients who were heavy consumers of energy drinks were found to have a significantly higher frequency of heart palpitations than those who consumed less than one per day,” said Dr Willoughby.
“And, importantly, fast heartbeat and heart palpitations were seen in energy drink consumers who were healthy and had no risk factors for heart disease.”
Colleague Ian Musgrave said there had been increasing concern over energy drinks among health practitioners and researchers.
“The major stimulant in these drinks is caffeine, which is generally safe when consumed at the recommended levels. However, some people appear to be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine, and the combination of ingredients in these energy drinks may pose a further threat to those who consume large quantities,” said Dr Musgrave.
“When vitamins and herbal extracts are combined together, they can create a toxic combination. Furthermore, the drinks are even more harmful when consumed with alcohol.”
Researchers says it is not yet clear exactly which ingredients lead to adverse heart reactions and more research into this is urgently needed.