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Do Energy Drinks Cause High Blood Pressure

by Lyndon Langley
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Do Energy Drinks Cause High Blood Pressure

Do Energy Drinks Cause High Blood Pressure

You’ve probably heard that energy drinks can be bad for you — they’re packed with caffeine so potent it can keep you awake all night. But a new study out Wednesday in the journal Circulation found that when consuming energy drinks, your blood pressure actually goes up. And not just a little bit. It went up by as much as 10 percent.

It might seem counterintuitive that an energy drink would make your blood pressure go up, but the researchers say there are two possible explanations. First, the amount of caffeine in energy drinks is extremely high, which may cause an “overdose” effect where your body becomes too jittery to regulate its normal system of blood pressure. Second, the other ingredients in energy drinks could also have an impact. For instance, ephedrine, one ingredient in some brands, has been linked to increases in blood pressure. The researchers used data from the Framingham Heart Study, which tracks more than 5,000 residents over time to see how their habits affect their risk of developing cardiovascular disease or dying early. They looked specifically at people’s consumption of energy drinks, both caffeinated and decaffeinated varieties.

The results were striking. People who drank energy drinks had significantly higher systolic blood pressures (the top number) compared to those who didn’t drink any energy drinks. That means the average person drinking even once per week was likely to experience an increase in his or her blood pressure. Systolic hypertension (high blood pressure) occurs when the top number is above 140 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Diastolic hypertension happens when the bottom number drops below 90 mmHg. These numbers are considered safe ranges for healthy adults.

Researchers believe that this increase in blood pressure is due to the stimulant properties of energy drinks. Stimulants like caffeine speed up the heartbeat, dilating small arteries and veins, and increasing blood flow throughout the body. This helps deliver oxygenated blood more quickly to the brain, heart, muscles, liver and kidneys. However, these same stimulants also constrict larger arteries, reducing blood supply to the lungs and gut. In addition, stimulants like caffeine can lead to dehydration, making the heart work harder to pump enough blood to every part of the body.
In the study, participants’ energy drink use ranged from 0.1 cans/day to 2 cans/day. The highest users experienced an 8 percent increase in systolic hypertension, while lower users only experienced a 3 percent increase. The authors said the findings held true regardless of age, sex, race, weight, alcohol intake, smoking status, physical activity level, socioeconomic status, depression, diabetes history, sleep quality and stress levels.

There are certain groups of people who should avoid energy drinks completely. Those include pregnant women, children younger than 12 years old, older people with pre-existing conditions including kidney problems, those taking medications for mental illness such as antidepressants or sleeping pills, anyone with allergies or dietary restrictions, and anyone who regularly consumes alcoholic beverages.

While the study shows harmful effects associated with energy drink usage, it does not prove causation. Other factors besides energy drink use could explain why people’s blood pressure rose.
For example, people who drank energy drinks tended to eat less vegetables, fiber, fish and whole grains. Lower intakes of these foods have been shown to reduce overall blood pressure. Also, since energy drinks contain lots of sugar, people who drank energy drinks were more likely to become obese and develop type 2 diabetes. Obesity leads to insulin resistance, which raises blood glucose levels, which, in turn, raise blood pressure. Type 2 diabetes often requires medication. So, obesity and diabetes could play a role here.

“So far we don’t know what [energy] drinks do to our bodies,” says senior author Robert Jackler, MD, PhD, director of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, in an email interview. “We can look at the association between energy drinks and hypertension, but we cannot say directly that energy drinks caused hypertension.”

Jackler notes that caffeine itself can cause changes in blood pressure, but he suspects that the combination of stimulants in energy drinks makes the problem worse. He recommends limiting energy drink use to no more than three days per week and advises against mixing energy drinks with alcohol.
Energy drinks are becoming increasingly popular among college students and athletes alike. According to market research firm Mintel, nearly half of U.S. college students ages 18 to 24 reported using energy drinks during the previous month, and 21 percent said they’d tried them in the past year. More than 40 percent of U.S. high school students have tried energy drinks, and 19 percent said they’d done so in the past year.

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