Energy Drinks May Pose Serious Health Risks
In our fast-paced society, there never seem to be enough hours in the day. To increase alertness and productivity, many people rely on energy drinks like 5-Hour Energy, Monster Energy and Red Bull. Some grocery and convenience stores sell more energy drinks than sodas. In 2012, retail sales of energy drinks in the United States reached $10 million.
An Abundance of Caffeine
Energy drinks get their power from caffeine, which can come from a variety of sources. These include synthetic caffeine, the guarana plant and tea extracts. The drinks are also high in sugar. They are often shelved in the same area as soft drinks.
Monster Energy drinks, for example, contain about 20 milligrams of caffeine per ounce. This means that there are 160 milligrams in an 8-ounce can, 320 in a 16-ounce can, 480 in a 24-ounce can and 960 in a 48 ounce can. By comparison, an 8-ounce cup of coffee contains 100 to 150 milligrams of caffeine.
A half-teaspoon serving of a new and heavily advertised product called Mio contains 1,060 milligrams of caffeine in an 18-serving bottle. Although one half-teaspoon serving of the product contains 60 milligrams of caffeine, many people routinely squirt multiple servings into their beverage.
Medical specialists say that most healthy adults can safely consume 300 to 500 milligrams of caffeine daily. Heavy usage is defined as 500 to 600 milligrams a day. Levels higher than this commonly cause nausea, jitteriness and a rapid heartbeat. The effects of high levels of caffeine on children, teens and those with certain health conditions are poorly documented.
Signs of Danger
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced “adverse event” reports of 18 deaths and more than 150 injuries possibly involving energy drinks. While these reports do not prove causation, they are cause for concern and additional research.
In the United States, a report by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that the annual number of emergency room visits linked to energy drinks was more than 13,000 in 2009, which is 10 times the number of similar visits in 2005.
The parents of a Maryland teenager in Oct. 2012 filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Monster Energy. The teen, who had a pre-existing heart condition, died from cardiac arrest after allegedly drinking two 24-ounce cans of this powerful energy drink.
The FDA Gets Involved
The FDA regularly makes public adverse event reports involving drugs and medical devices. It does not do so for dietary supplements like energy drinks. The reports of 18 deaths became public only in response to a formal Freedom of Information Act request.
In response to deaths caused by the weight-loss supplement ephedra, in 2006 Congress passed the Dietary Supplement and Nonprescription Drug Consumer Protection Act. This law requires that producers of supplements and over-the-counter drugs file adverse event reports with the FDA. Enforcement has been lax, however, and producers of energy drinks have rarely done so.
In Nov. 2012, the FDA announced that it would seek advice from outside experts to help determine if energy drinks post significant risks if consumed in excess or if consumed by vulnerable groups including young people or those with pre-existing cardiac conditions. In Canada, a similar process led to 180-milligram limits on allowable caffeine levels in energy drinks. The FDA plans no immediate action.