The next time you need an instant jolt, hit Starbucks instead of a convenience store. New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggest energy drinks mess with your body more than other caffeinated drinks like coffee or soda.
The small study compared the effects of both beverages on the heart, and found some concerning results. Scientists first gave half of the volunteers a commercially-available energy drink with 320 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of four cups of coffee. The beverage also included 4 ounces of sugar and other common ingredients like taurine and ginseng. The other half received a soda-like drink with the same amount of caffeine, mixed with lime juice, cherry syrup and carbonated water.
Researchers then measured the participants' blood pressure and heart activity over the next 24 hours. After six days, the two groups switched. What the scientists found might make you take a break from the Red Bull.
Guzzling either beverage led to higher blood pressure, but the energy drink caused those levels to stay elevated for a much longer period of time. While small blood pressure jumps don't pose a huge risk for the average person, they could spell trouble for people with heart conditions.
Researchers also found that energy drinks change how the heart beats, affecting a measure called the QT interval. The phenomenon is associated with "increased risk for fatal arrhythmias," the study authors note. Related research indicates that caffeinated drinks don't pose that danger.
"What the growing body of evidence is pointing to is that there are effects on the heart that are different than caffeine alone," says study author Emily Fletcher of the David Grant U.S.A.F. Medical Center in California. "Consumers should be aware that drinking an energy drink is not the same as drinking coffee or soda."
Jaclyn London, R.D., Nutrition Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute, agrees. "There's no question that energy drinks aren't the best choice for your health, primarily due to the added sugar," she says. "Sugar in beverage form is readily digested, absorbed and taken up in the bloodstream."
That doesn't mean you have to stay away from caffeine altogether though. "Coffee and tea (in unsweetened form) are loaded with antioxidants and other phytonutrients, plant-based compounds linked with improved cognition and reduced risk of chronic disease," London says.
With that in mind, head to the coffee shop for that 3 p.m. pick-me-up. Your body will thank you.
[h/t NBC News]
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