Energy drinks: What are the health risks?

Caffeine can cause major health conditions, including problems with heart and blood vessels, the National Institutes of Health has warned.

One couple apparently learned that the hard way when the husband was left with a hole in his skull and suffered a brain hemorrhage after what doctors said was “excessive energy drink consumption,” his wife claimed.

The number of energy drink-related emergency room visits doubled between 2007 and 2011, especially among people over the age of 40, according to the NIH.

Read on for a look at the dangers of energy drinks.

What are some risks associated with energy drinks?

Energy drinks “can be dangerous because large amounts of caffeine may cause serious heart rhythm, blood flow and blood pressure problems,” NIH has warned.

Researchers with the American Heart Association have warned that energy drinks can be “life threatening” – especially for those with already high blood pressure or cardiac issues.

Energy drinks can also disrupt sleep patterns, cause heart palpitations and anxiety, contribute to digestive programs, increase blood pressure and lead to dehydration, according to the NIH.

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The drinks have led to death. Earlier this year, a South Carolina teenager died after consuming an excessive amount of caffeine in a short amount of time.

Children with still-developing cardiovascular and nervous systems are also at risk as caffeine could harm them. The American Academy of Pediatrics said children should “never” consume energy drinks.

Is mixing alcohol and energy drinks especially dangerous?

Experts warn against mixing energy drinks and alcohol as it may inhibit young adults’ ability to tell their level of intoxication. The NIH estimated that about 25 percent of college students mix alcohol and energy drinks and binge-drink “significantly more” than others.

What ingredients are commonly found in energy drinks?

Caffeine and sugar are ingredients typically found in energy drinks, according to the University of Maryland’s Legal Resource Center for Public Health Policy. The center said that the drinks contain “large amounts of sugar comparable to sodas and fruit drinks,” as well as artificial sweeteners.

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Taurine, an amino acid, is also often found in energy drinks, the center said. It’s added as a “caffeine adjuvant” which aids the effects of caffeine. Other common ingredients – guarana, kola nuts and yerba matè – also can contain caffeine or other caffeine stimulants, the center found.

What are some alternatives to energy drinks?

To stay energized without the use of an energy drink, Villanova University recommends eating a balanced breakfast and foods with soy. The school also recommends drinking water and green tea.