Is that true – energy drinks can kill you? Should energy drinks carry a health warning? Has the US become a “caffeine-dependent nation”? The traditional coffee, tea, and soft drinks were not enough, we have added caffeine to mints, gum, and a variety of “energy drinks.” These drinks have tremendous sales, not only in the US, but other countries as well. Australian researchers recently reported the energy drink, Red Bull, has the potential to increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.1
The study conducted on college age adults found Red Bull not only increased blood pressure, it increased the stickiness of blood cells – after consuming only one can of the drink. It is known increasing the stickiness of blood cells means our blood will be more prone to forming clots, which can cause a heart attack or stroke. The authors of the study concluded that drinking Red Bull could be dangerous, especially for anyone who may already be predisposed to heart disease.
After the study was published, a spokesperson for Red Bull stated these effects are similar to the changes found with drinking a cup of coffee, and so the long-term risks of energy drinks could not be determined from these results alone.2
It’s true each can of Red Bull contains about 80 mg of caffeine, the amount typically found in one cup of brewed coffee. Caffeine is a stimulant, and in moderation has been shown to have some benefits. For instance, it slightly increases the body’s rate of metabolism and enhances mental focus and clarity.
Nor-adrenaline causes blood vessels to constrict, and increases blood pressure.3 The difference between coffee and energy drinks is coffee comes from a plant and contains other natural substances that may be moderating its effects.
While some studies found coffee increases blood pressure in occasional drinkers, in habitual coffee drinkers, that effect seems to wear off.4
What about the blood stickiness? There are no studies now showing coffee increases blood platelet stickiness. Actually, it has been found to have the opposite effect. Italian researchers have found coffee makes blood platelets less sticky, and have narrowed that effect down to the phenolic compounds contained in coffee.5
Phenolic compounds are the natural antioxidants found in many plant foods — and coffee is very high in these antioxidants. So this may be part of the reason coffee is not as harmful.
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