- Researchers from the University of the Pacific and two other institutions found drinking caffeinated energy drinks can alter heart rhythm and raise blood pressure. The study, which involved 34 volunteers between the ages 18 and 40, was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
- The researchers said it was the largest randomized, controlled clinical trial on the subject to date. Each person was given two 16-ounce bottles of an energy drink or a placebo. The subjects were told to drink them within an hour on three study days with a six-day period in between treatments. Participants' heart rhythms and blood pressure were then monitored every half hour for four hours.
- The study noted the energy drinks "significantly prolonged" the QTc interval, meaning the time heart chambers need to contract and relax with the heart rate factored in. The drinks also raised brachial and central blood pressure. Researchers said further investigation is warranted on whether individual ingredients or a combination of them leads to these changes. "The impact of long-term energy drinks consumption remains unknown," they concluded.
It's hard to tell how reliable this study is since the authors noted a number of limitations. Participants drank 32 ounces of either an energy drink or a placebo, which may not translate well into how people consume them in real life. Another potential issue with the study is that monitoring heart rhythm and blood pressure for only four hours doesn't provide insight into how consumers react over time to energy drinks. The study also didn't look at combining energy drinks with alcohol, which the researchers said is not an uncommon practice.
Despite its limitations, this study could still have an impact since it is the latest to link energy drinks to health complications. Other research on energy drinks has suggested links to heart issues, and the World Health Organization has said that high consumption of energy drinks "may pose danger to public health."
There has been more than one lawsuit against energy drink companies for this reason. Monster Beverage was sued in 2012 by the parents of a teen who went into cardiac arrest after allegedly drinking two of the company's energy drinks in 24 hours. And more recently, a California jury found last year that Monster energy drinks weren't responsible for the heart attack of an 18-year-old man.
Makers of energy drinks — well-established brands such as Monster, Red Bull and Rockstar, plus new products from Coca-Cola and Amazon — seem to be persevering and even accelerating production, despite these kinds of studies and negative media coverage. Sales of energy drinks could reach nearly $17 billion by 2022, according to Market Research Hub. Total sales were worth close to $11 billion last year, a 7.5% jump from 2017.
At the same time, some energy drink manufacturers are aiming for a relatively healthier profile. Coca-Cola is formulating its new energy drinks with naturally derived sources and offering a no-sugar option while Amazon is touting its new Solimo beverages as featuring no sugar and 10 calories per serving.
If consumers are aware of research studies suggesting the potential of negative health results from consuming energy drinks, that knowledge may convince them to try beverages without caffeine, taurine and other ingredients contained in these products. While energy drinks seem to have a built-in audience of younger consumers, Mintel noted some of these consumers have gravitated toward more natural products in recent years.
To head off this type of response, energy drink companies might consider switching up their formulations, reducing the amount of caffeine, limiting artificial ingredients and advertising these changes to portray a healthier image. At the same time, they would be wise to keep their existing product line available for consumers who may not value these attributes but still want the energy boost. Changes like these give consumers more choices and could help ward off potential lawsuits, while giving the manufacturers an opportunity to boost sales and attract new customers.