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Energy Drinks and Your Heart

It's that special liquid that gives people, mainly teens and young males, a needed boost of energy. But recent headlines about energy drinks' effects on heart health may be taking away some of the magic.

Since its debut in 1987, the energy drink has steadily grown in popularity. Today, energy drinks are part of a $9 billion business in the U.S. – with people under age 25 making up half of all sales, according to Beverage Digest. To produce energy, large doses of caffeine and other natural ingredients that act as stimulants are added to these drinks. The main source of energy usually comes from the combination of sugar and caffeine; sugar absorbs into the body quickly. 

The amount of caffeine in a 2 oz. energy shot, for instance, can equal 2 cups of coffee or 204 mg of caffeine. A 24 oz. energy drink has about 240 mg of caffeine. This is higher than the suggested daily dose of caffeine for teens and children which should not exceed 100 mg. Adults should have no more than 400 mg per day.

Exceeding these suggested caffeine doses may cause heart problems. Too much caffeine can lead to a faster heart rate and irregular heartbeats, and it can also temporarily raise blood pressure. Experts who study energy drinks say they can be more risky than coffee, because of 2 main reasons:

  1. Large portion sizes make it easier to drink more than the suggested amount in a single sitting.
  2. Energy drinks are often sweet and served cold, making it tempting for people to drink them in place of other liquids like water and sports drinks.

Many people have used these drinks with no apparent problems. But for those with undiagnosed heart conditions or who are taking medications, the risks may be greater. Last year, the U.S. Drug Abuse Warning Network said that energy drinks were linked with more than 13,000 emergency room visits. These drinks were the main reason nearly two-thirds of teens ages 12 to 17 went to the ER.

Manufacturers claim these products are safe and that warning labels on the cans alert people that drinks are not suggested for children and people sensitive to caffeine.

The good news is there are other ways to boost your energy without causing any risk to your heart. Try a healthy snack, instead. Tamara Duker Freuman, an NYC-based registered dietitian, suggests having half a tuna sandwich on whole grain bread and a cup of plain coffee to get some caffeine and the type of energy-yielding carbs that won't spike and crash your blood sugar. Fresh fruit can also give you a natural boost.

Sources: Krames Staywell, WebMD, US News and World Report, USA Today, New York Daily News and Reuters

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