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New warning from doctors about energy drinks

UT Health sports cardiologist proves energy drinks are bad for the body

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

HOUSTON – For years, UT Health sports cardiologist Dr. John Higgins has said energy drinks are bad, and now he can prove it, he said.

“We took 47 young, healthy medical students,” Higgins, a doctor at UT Health, said about a study he conducted. “We measured their vascular arterial function, and then we had them drink an energy drink and then we measured it 90 minutes later, and we saw a significant reduction in the function of how well their blood vessels basically can work.”

KPRC reports Higgins’ findings were used as the basis for an official statement recently released by the American College of Sports Medicine, announcing new recommendations and warnings for energy drinks.

He said when your blood vessels are constricted, that means your body isn't getting blood where it needs it. Higgins warns it could be putting people at risk of a heart attack and other health problems. 

“Cardiovascular effects, neurological effects, gastrointestinal system, renal system, psychiatric effects that have been reported more and more, and of course, the number of emergency room visits were going up and up,” Higgins listed as negative effects of the drinks.

He said almost anything is better than drinking energy drinks.

“Water, perfectly safe. Sports drinks, perfectly safe. Energy drinks, no, not safe,” Higgins said. 

It’s not just the caffeine that makes the drinks potentially dangerous. 

For example, he said, one cup of coffee contains about 100 mg of caffeine. On average, sodas have about half the caffeine of coffee. Strictly talking about caffeine, Higgins said most people can consume the beverages in safe amounts, which is under 400 mg in a day. However, he said energy drinks contain caffeine and a long list of other ingredients that are listed as an “energy blend.” Higgins said the chemicals in the energy blend, like taurine, may be interacting with the caffeine in a bad way. Yet, there’s no telling the amount of these chemicals in the drinks.

Click here to see what Dr.. Higgins said about mixing energy drinks with alcohol.

The American Beverage Association says energy drinks are perfectly safe. They released the following statement: 

"Mainstream energy drinks have been extensively studied and confirmed safe for consumption by government safety authorities worldwide, including the FDA and European Food Safety Authority. In fact, most mainstream energy drinks have far less caffeine than a similar size coffeehouse coffee - many have about half as much."

"America’s leading energy drink manufacturers voluntarily go far beyond all federal requirements when it comes to responsible labeling and marketing practices, including displaying total caffeine content - from all sources - on their packages along with advisory statements indicating that the product is not recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women and persons sensitive to caffeine. Learn more at EnergyDrinkInformation.com."

The Food and Drug Administration categorizes your coffee and soda as a beverage, therefore it scrutinizing what goes in them, but the FDA classifies energy drinks as a supplement, not a beverage. Higgins said that means we may not know exactly what’s in the drinks, and therefore are unable to determine the safety of them.

In his investigation, Higgins concludes no pregnant women, children or athletes should ever consume energy drinks, especially before exercise.

“We think it's the combination of the energy drink and the exercise together that really is causing a lot of these issues, particularly the catastrophic cardio arrest that we're seeing,” he said.

Watch KPRC's story here: