Persons addicted to energy-boosting caffeine drinks may want to think twice about buying their next drink, as researchers warn that these drinks can change the way the heart beats.

In a study released this week, the researchers said heart contractions in the body were more forceful after the drink. They warned that children and people with some health conditions known as cardiac arrhythmias – irregular heartbeats — should abstain from consuming energy drinks.

The experimental exercise involving 17 people showed that the chamber of the heart that pumps blood around the body, the left ventricle, was contracting harder an hour after the energy drink was taken than at the start of the study.

The researchers, a team from the University of Bonn, Germany, noted that the amount of caffeine in energy drinks is up to three times higher than in other caffeinated beverages like coffee or cola.

Speaking on the effects of a high intake of caffeine, they mentioned rapid heart rate, palpitations, a rise in blood pressure and, in the most severe cases, seizures or sudden death.

According to previous studies, these energy drinks, do not provide any real energy but instead provide the popular stimulant, caffeine. The stimulating properties in the drink can boost heart rate and blood pressure, sometimes causing palpitations that dehydrate the body and prevent sleep. The alteration in heart function was due to the presence of high amounts of caffeine – the equivalent of two or more cups of coffee.

The researchers however acknowledged that further studies needed to be done to accurately assess the long-term effects of energy drink consumption as well as any other possible effects these drinks may have on people with a history of heart disease.

Meanwhile, a cardiologist at the National Cardiothoracic Centre of Excellence, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, Dr. Benedict Anisuiba, advised that for people with no disease of the heart or the nervous system including the brain, about 100 to 200mg of caffeine in a day may not be harmful.

“That is about one or two cups of coffee daily. Anything above 300mg of caffeine daily should be avoided. Caffeine content of energy drinks vary. One should always look at the label in order not to exceed the comfortable limit. Those with heart disease should avoid caffeine-containing drinks altogether.”

However, Anisuiba noted that caffeine is fast eliminated from the body system, so it may not have a long-term effect on one’s body.

He said, “The half-life of caffeine in the body is very short. It is rapidly eliminated from the body within six to eight hours. The effect on alertness and energy level is therefore short-lived. Additionally, some of the energy drinks are laced with a lot of sugar thereby providing empty calories which encourage obesity. They are not safe for people with heart disease. Even among normal people, some are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others, resulting in palpitations, tremulousness, insomnia, and stomach upset.”

He noted that some energy drinks give one a psychological feeling of improved performance when actually, one’s sense of judgement may be impaired.

Also, a nutrition expert at the Federal Medical Centre, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Dr. Okunola Oladimeji, warned that caffeinated energy-boosting drinks provide quick energy but has side effects that could be life threatening. He noted that caffeine in energy drinks stimulate the heart and the brain.

According to Oladimeji, the stimulant induces the release of energy — both the stored and the one present in the drink. “During the period of consumption, the heart does extra work to pump and circulate the blood packed with lots of glucose. Sometimes, the excess glucose is more than what the body organs require at particular time,  especially if the consumer isn’t engaged in any rigorous sporting activity, which allows the body organs  burn the calories being released,” he explained.

Oladimeji warned that regular intake of caffeinated-energy drinks could induce high blood pressure (hypertension). He said the caffeine in these drinks make the heart to function abnormally. He added some caffeinated-energy drinks also contain ingredients that could be harmful to the health.

He said, “For those who are health-conscious, avoid taking these drinks when you don’t plan to engage in rigorous sports or physical activity. It has become a common practice for people to mix energy drinks with other alcoholic drinks and beverages. This can be dangerous to one’s health.

“It can also damage the liver, kidney and heart, and can induce ulcer because of the acid base. The excess calories in the body can also be converted to fat and stored in the adipose tissue thereby causing obesity. Also, obesity triggers high blood pressure, diabetes and other medical complications.”

The nutrition expert advised Nigerians to consume energy drinks with no caffeine, noting that there are natural ways to boost ones energy, such as taking fruits.

“Some fruits are great energy boosters, banana is an example. It provides good energy and is an anti-stress antacid with no side effects. It is also a good source of vitamins and minerals, which are good for the body. The potassium content in bananas is high and good for the heart. So, when you want to do any work that is mentally or physically stressful, eat it along as you work. You can get this value in other fruits as well, such as, watermelon, pineapple, orange, fruits in general,” he said.

In the same vein, an anaesthesiologist at the UNTH, Enugu, Dr. Olatunbosun Ogunleye, stressed that energy drinks were fast becoming abused by many. Therefore, he urged Nigerians to be more cautious and called for a public campaign that would enlighten Nigerians on the health complications of energy drinks.

Ways to boost your energy

• Control stress — Stress-induced emotions consume huge amounts of energy.

• Lighten your load — One of the main reasons for fatigue is overwork. Overwork can include professional, family, and social obligations. Try to streamline your list of “must-do” activities.

• Exercise — Exercise almost guarantees that you’ll sleep more soundly. It also gives your cells more energy to burn and circulates oxygen.

• Avoid smoking — You know smoking threatens your health. But you may not know that smoking actually drain off your energy by causing insomnia.

• Restrict your sleep — If you think you may be sleep-deprived, try getting less sleep. This advice may sound odd, but determining how much sleep you actually need can reduce the time you spend in bed not sleeping.

• Eat for energy — It’s better to eat small meals and snacks every few hours than three large meals a day.

• Limit alcohol — One of the best hedges against the mid-afternoon slump is to avoid drinking alcohol at lunch.

• Drink water — If your body is short of fluids, one of the first signs is a feeling of fatigue.


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