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Energy Drinks & Your Heart: January 22, 2014

A busy professional, Peter McCartney uses energy drinks, in part, to fuel his day.

“Just for extra energy, it always gives you a boost. Come 3 o’clock or maybe just after lunch, have an energy drink. Or maybe first thing in the morning,” says McCartney.

A typical can has up to three times as much caffeine as soda or coffee and many contain a stimulant called taurine along with other ingredients. McCartney sampled several, including one that made his heart race.

“When I drink that one, I actually feel like a flush. And it almost tingles on the body,” says McCartney.

“People think it’s going to burst your energy level, they feel very strong and also they use it as a supplement for weight loss,” says Dr. Murali Muppala, cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

To get a true picture of what the buzz is about, researchers took a detailed MRI of healthy test subjects before and after downing a highly caffeinated energy drink with taurine. An hour later they still had significantly increased heart rates.

“All the medications that have a stimulant effect can make your heart go, number one faster; and if you take too much of it, it can make significant cardiac arrhythmias. Sometimes just palpitations or sometimes life threatening arrhythmias if it is toxic levels,” says Dr. Muppala.

Downing drinks once in a while may not be an issue, but doctors are unsure about long-term affects of being constantly amped up.

“Every dose adds up. When someone is excited it’s what we call sympathetic nervous system hyperactivity. If you have on-going effect this can have a detrimental effect on your heart system,” says Dr. Muppala.

The same could be said for jumbo hi-caff coffee drinks too.