Energy drinks, which often contain large amounts of caffeine, jolt you out of the afternoon doldrums or get you moving in the morning. The ingredients in energy drinks have both a direct and an indirect effect on your heart and blood vessels. Plaque build-up inside your arteries leads to atherosclerosis, which reduces blood flow to your heart and raises your risk of heart attack and stroke. Consuming large amounts of sugar and caffeine can increase the chance of developing plaque formation in your heart.
Energy Drinks and Blood Pressure
The caffeine in energy drinks along with taurine, an amino acid added to many energy drinks to increase alertness, can raise your blood pressure, according to a Henry Ford Hospital study presented at the 2007 American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in Orlando, Fla., and reported on the Medical News Today website. Energy drinks typically contain more caffeine than coffee or cola and often include other stimulants that also raise blood pressure. In the study, blood pressure rose by an average of 7.9 percent on day one within four hours after consuming an energy drink and 9.6 percent by day seven. High blood pressure also causes the blood vessel walls to thicken and become less pliable, which allows plaque to stick to them more easily. Blood clots develop at the site of atherosclerosis and damaged blood vessels.
Energy Drinks and Cholesterol
The sugar content of energy drinks could contribute to high cholesterol levels if you overindulge. A high sugar intake increases the risk of developing high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease, according to a 2002 report published in "Circulation," the magazine of the American Heart Association. Increased intake of sugar is associated with lower levels of high-density lipoprotein, the so-called "good" cholesterol, which decreases your risk of atherosclerosis by scavenging excess cholesterol in your blood and removing it to the liver, Dr. Barbara Howard reports in the article. Dietary intake of more than 20 percent in the form of simple sugars also increases triglyceride levels, another lipid associated with heart disease, Howard states.
Sugar Intake and Obesity
The high sugar content in energy drinks can lead to overweight or obesity as well as diabetes, all risk factors for developing atherosclerosis. Excess fat cells release cytokines, protein substances that help regulate immune system responses that can lead to high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, Dr. Richard Redinger of the University of Louisville explains in a November 2007 article published in "Gastroenterology & Hepatology." Obesity increases insulin resistance, making it harder for cells to remove glucose from the bloodstream. Blood glucose levels rise and diabetes develops, further increasing the risk of plaque formation and atherosclerosis.
Energy drinks can increase your risk of developing plaque that leads to atherosclerosis in the same way that any food or drink high in calories and caffeine or other stimulants can. The risk is not specific to energy drinks; any drinks high in caffeine can raise your blood pressure and any drinks high in sugar increase your risk of developing atherosclerosis related to obesity and diabetes.
- University of Illinois Extension; What You Need to Know About Energy Drinks; March 2011
- Medical News Today; Energy Drinks Linked To Heart Risk, Study; November 2007
- "Circulation"; Sugar and Cardiovascular Disease"; Barbara Howard, Ph.D., et al.; 2002
- "Handbook of Ocular Disease Management"; Hypertension; Jobson Publishing; 2000-2001
- "Gastroenterology & Hepatology"; The Pathophysiology of Obesity and Its Clinical Manifestations Richard N. Redinger, M.D.; November 2007