Energy drink habit puts man in hospital with heart failure

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  • Excessive consumption of energy drinks can lead to severe negative effects on the body
  • One man's habit resulted in a need for urgent medical attention
  • In a medical journal, his doctors warned people to be mindful of the toxic effects of such drinks

In a society where we’re overworked and sleep-deprived, energy drinks may provide us with a much-needed burst of energy. However, many of these drinks are so high in sugar and caffeine that they could lead to a host of health problems.

A newly published case report in the  British Medical Journal (BMJ) is a perfect example. According to the doctors at St Thomas' Hospital in London who authored the report, a 21-year-old man's heart failure may have been triggered by excessive consumption of energy drinks –  four energy drinks per day for two years, to be precise.

The patient experienced progressively worsening shortness of breath for four months, as well as weight loss and general malaise (a feeling of weakness and discomfort), the doctors wrote. After several tests, he was diagnosed with heart failure, a potentially life-threatening condition. 

The medical team considered several possible causes for his condition, including "broken heart syndrome", but neither condition made sense when they considered the patient's history and test results. The most likely explanation for his heart failure, they concluded, was his high intake of energy drinks, although they couldn't prove this.

Still, they warned, their finding adds to the growing concern about the potential cardiotoxic effects of energy drinks.

What do energy drinks contain?

The patient had a history of regular energy drink consumption, and consumed an average of four 500 ml cans per day for approximately two years. Each can contained 160 mg of caffeine, as well as taurine and various other ingredients. 

Taurine is an essential amino acid of which our bodies can only produce a certain amount. If it is consumed in the recommended daily amounts of 500–2 000 mg, it will have no negative side effects, dietitian Innocent Kazimbe told Life EHS. But, apart from taurine and caffeine, it’s important to note that energy drinks also contain ingredients like guarana, a plant substance containing almost double the amount of caffeine found in coffee.

On their own, and in recommended doses, these ingredients are not necessarily harmful to our bodies, but when ingested in high doses combined with high amounts of sugar, they may have detrimental effects on our body, Kazimbe explained.

Some popular energy drinks contain up to 20 teaspoons of sugar per 500 ml, Professor Karen Hofman, Director of PRICELESS SA Research Unit at Wits University explained in an article. This is more than double the daily amount of between six and 12 teaspoons recommended for adults by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Patient stopped studies

The patient also recalled occasional symptoms of indigestion, tremors and a racing heartbeat but didn’t seek medical attention at the time. Because he felt so unwell and lethargic, he was unable to continue his university studies.

After 58 days in the hospital, he was cleared to go home. He was prescribed several heart medications and the doctors noted that he stopped drinking energy drinks completely, improving his heart function to the extent that a heart transplant was no longer necessary. 

"This case further highlights the potential cardiovascular dangers of energy drinks in susceptible individuals," they wrote, and concluded by suggesting that clear warnings should be provided about the potential cardiovascular dangers of energy drink consumption.

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READ | Should you drink coffee on an empty stomach?

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