Energy Drinks Impair Heart Function, Suggests New Study

Today in news that everybody saw coming: energy drinks could be bad, bad news for your heart. Drinks containing caffeine and taurine — two common ingredients in various energy drinks — might actually change the way your heart functions, suggests a new study. The study used 18 healthy participants who, an hour after consuming an energy drink, experienced increased heart contractions. And though that might be OK for healthy, young people, the contractions can wear down heart muscles over time and be especially harmful for people with preexisting heart conditions. Oh, and FYI: energy drinks and shots are basically unregulated by the FDA.

The study put healthy test subjects through an MRI twice to double-check the effects of energy drinks. "Until now, we haven't known exactly what effect these energy drinks have on the function of the heart," said Dr. Jonas Dörner, an author of the study. "There are concerns about the products' potential adverse side effects on heart function, especially in adolescents and young adults, but there is little or no regulation of energy drink sales."

Many will remember the Four Loko scare of 2010, in which college campuses and municipalities tried to ban the caffeinated alcoholic beverage after a sharp spike in emergency room visits. (The company eventually opted to offer a non-caffeinated version of the drink.)

Naturally, energy-drink companies were quick with a response. "The fact remains that most mainstream energy drinks contain only about half the caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee," said the American Beverage Association. Allegedly, one of the study's authors had falsely claimed a much higher caffeine content in energy drinks than there actually is, which could (obviously) threaten the study's findings.

"Caffeine is a safe ingredient and is consumed every day in a wide variety of foods and beverages, including energy drinks which have been enjoyed safely by millions of people for nearly three decades," the industry group continued. "Also, this paper, which looks at only 18 adults, has not been peer-reviewed or published." Yup. But, really, who knows what is packed into energy drinks, other than caffeine? Did we mention the whole unregulated and unmonitored thing?

Good news: multiple studies in recent years have indicated that caffeine is actually not as bad for you as we thought. In fact, three cups a day might actually be the optimum amount of caffeine intake. (I knew I was on to something with all of those late-night trips to coffee shops in college, rather than to the vending machine for an energy boost.) Even if these most recent findings are inconclusive, we'd take a plain black cup of joe over an energy drink or a spray concoction any day.