Study Links Diabetes, Heart Disease Risk To Popular Energy Drinks

| by Nik Bonopartis
XTC brand energy drinks.XTC brand energy drinks.

Teens who consume energy drinks could be putting themselves at risk for diabetes and heart problems later in life, a new study shows.

This study was presented Dec. 1 at the World Diabetes Congress in Vancouver, a gathering where researchers present data from the latest diabetes studies.

While the effects of energy drinks have been studied in adults, research on teenagers who consume the drinks has lagged behind, so graduate student Heidi Virtanen at the University of Calgary decided to conduct the study using 20 teenagers -- 10 boys and 10 girls -- with a median age of 17, according to the university's press release for the World Diabetes Conference.

Virtanen asked the kids to come in after abstaining from caffeine and vigorous exercise for 24 hours prior to the study, then she gave them a single serving of the popular 5-Hour Energy shots, which are ubiquitous in stores in the U.S. and Canada. The double-blind, randomized study also included a component where the teenagers were given a decaffeinated beverage. Both drinks were sugar-free, "so the effects of the caffeine contained in the drink could be determined," the university noted.

After the teens drank the energy shots, researchers took blood samples at regular intervals every 15 minutes for two hours.

The results showed a 25 percent increase in blood sugar levels after the teenagers consumed the caffeinated beverages, while insulin levels were elevated by 26 percent, according to the study.

“Elevated glucose and insulin responses may contribute to increased metabolic risk including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in susceptible individuals later in life," Jane Shearer, an associated professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Calgary, said in the press release.

Shearer, who supervised Virtanen's research, has worked as an advisor to Health Canada, a department similar to the U.S. Department of Health. Her work with the department has included advising lawmakers on legislation involving energy drink regulations and warning labels.

The trade publication Beverage Daily notes that energy drinks, which were popularized by Red Bull's entry into the beverage market in 1997, have become a $50 billion industry, according to Investopedia. Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar and 5-Hour Energy compete for the majority of market share. About one in three teenagers consumes energy drinks regularly, and half of all college age athletes report consuming energy drinks, according to the Calgary study.

Shearer and Virtanen said they plan to conduct a follow-up study to look at "large format" energy drinks like Red Bull and Rockstar, which are sold in cans ranging from 8 ounces to 24 ounces, according to the university's press release. That study, they said, will be more wide-ranging.

“In this trial, we anticipate that caffeine-containing energy drinks will also impair blood glucose regulation in everyday situations where subjects freely choose their food," Shearer said. "Activity levels, sleep disturbances and mood will also be assessed.”

Sources: World Diabetes Conference via, Investopedia, International Diabetes Federation / Photo source: Wikimedia Commons