Energy drinks and other caffeine-packed beverages have become increasingly popular, particularly with teens and young adults. While most people can drink them safely, they can be a health threat if you have heart issues or high blood pressure.
It is not uncommon to find energy drinks that contain 200 mg of caffeine – or roughly the equivalent of six cans of soda or two cups of coffee. The average person should drink no more than 400 mg of caffeine each day, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Even more troubling: It might not always be obvious that a beverage is highly caffeinated. You should always read labels.
Not everyone can handle intense boosts of caffeine, which can wreak havoc with the heart’s ability to pump blood normally.
When consumed in moderation, caffeine is considered safe. In fact, some studies suggest that regular coffee drinkers are less likely to develop chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. For most people, drinking four to five cups a coffee a day should be fine.
There is the potential for trouble, however, when that consumption skyrockets past the recommended levels. Among the more common side effects:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Uncomfortably jitteriness
There is a bigger risk, however, for people who have heart conditions that can trigger arrhythmia – a problem with the heart’s electrical system that causes an irregular heartbeat. Among the most common of those conditions is atrial fibrillation (AFib), which can lead to blood clots, stroke and heart failure. With AFib, the heart’s upper chambers (atria) beat irregularly and out of sync with the lower chambers (ventricles). For some people, there are no symptoms. But for others, there is a fast or pounding heartbeat, shortness of breath or light-headedness.
In general, people with AFib can consume caffeine, as long as it is done in moderation. But drinks with excessive caffeine content could trigger dangerous episodes of arrhythmia. In some rare cardiac conditions, arrhythmias can be triggered or worsened by stimulants which, depending on the condition, can be fatal.
More Than Caffeine
Unfortunately, caffeine content alone doesn’t always provide a clear picture of the impact a particular drink will have on your body. Energy drinks and other highly caffeinated beverages are also likely to contain a number of extra ingredients that can amplify the impact. Among them:
Sugar: These drinks are often loaded with sugar – as much as 50 or 60 grams in a serving. That’s considerably more than the American Heart Association’s daily recommendations of 36 grams for men and 24 grams for women. Consuming too much sugar can increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
Guarana: This plant extract contains highly concentrated caffeine – two or three times higher than what’s found in coffee beans. Guarana also affects your body differently than the caffeine found in coffee. It’s slower releasing and longer lasting, unlike coffee which gives you a quicker, but more temporary, boost. As a result, it’s easier to consume more caffeine than you realize.
If you have a heart condition, you should talk with your cardiologist before considering a heavily caffeinated beverage. If you don’t have a heart condition, take some time to understand what’s in the drink you have chosen. You should know that these drinks – and their various additives – are not regulated or approved by any health and safety organizations.
So, read the nutrition label to get a better sense of how much caffeine, sugar and other supplements you will be consuming. Remember that the average person should aim for 400 mg or less of caffeine each day. So, if your favorite energy beverage is loaded with 200 mg of caffeine, count that as half of your total for the day.
And if you have any doubts about the safety of a drink, talk to your doctor.
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