Too many energy drinks can trigger sudden heart attacks, even in healthy people, according to scientists, who have warned parents to watch how much children consume.
Almost one in three 10 to 19-year-olds regularly consume the drinks, which often contain high levels of caffeine that can be bad for the heart.
They can also contain “hidden” caffeine in the form of “masking agents” such as guarana, which comes from a Brazilian plant and is identical to caffeine in coffee beans but at twice the concentration.
Adding guarana and other popular substances, such as ginseng and taurine may generate “uncertain interactions”, the researchers said.
Their work focused on the pharmacology of energy drinks (EDs) among children and young adults. The team also studied how the marketing of EDs as a means to relieve fatigue and improve physical performance may be ignoring real dangers.
The international research team based at the Research Institute of Hospital 12 de Octubre in Madrid, Spain, warned that energy drinks can trigger sudden cardiac deaths in young, apparently healthy individuals.
“The rapid rise in popularity of energy drinks, particularly among adolescents, aged 10-19 years, and young adults, has serious implications for cardiac health,” lead researcher Dr Fabian Sanchis-Gomar said in an article published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.
“Physicians are advised to ask adolescent patients whether they consume EDs, to be aware of the symptoms of overconsumption, and to discuss the dangers of EDs alone and mixed with alcohol.” London-based cardiologist Assem Malhotra told The Independent: “This new research is very concerning. Any excess consumption of stimulants does increase the risk of symptomatic and distressing palpitations for many people, and children in particular should be avoiding energy drinks as much as possible. I personally believe they should be banned for kids.”
The market is booming. Sales rose from 454 million litres in 2011 to more than 550 million litres last year – a market value that climbed from £1bn to £1.3bn, according to a report by Mintel. It predicted sales would rise to around 650 million litres by 2019.
The scientists said one 250ml can per day is safe “for most healthy adolescents” and that ED consumption before or during sports practice should be avoided.