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Energy Drinks: Hazardous to Your Health?

Products Need Warning Labels, Scientist Says; Industry Contends They're Safe to Drink

Energy Drinks: The Report

Energy drinks are popular with teens and young adults, Griffiths found in his research. In a 2007 survey of 496 college students, 51% said they had consumed at least one energy drink during the past month.

Bad reactions to energy drinks have been reported to U.S. poison control centers, Griffiths writes in the report, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. From 2002 to 2004, he says, 41 cases of caffeine abuse from caffeine-enhanced beverages were reported.

In a report of nine cases of adverse reactions to the energy drink Redline, the patients reported nausea and vomiting, high blood pressure, tremors, dizziness, and numbness.

Data also suggest those who drink the energy drinks may combine them with alcohol, Griffiths tells WebMD. In the college student survey, 27% said they mixed alcohol and energy drinks at least once in the past month. One danger to that: Users may feel alert enough to drive, even if they are inebriated.

Griffiths worries that the energy drinks are sometimes "gateways" to use of other substances. In one study, college students who used energy drinks were more likely to later use stimulants for recreational use, he says.

Energy Drinks: Industry View

Storey, of the American Beverage Association, took exception with Griffiths' view. "It's a review, not a study," she says of his report. "We need to be careful about taking too much out of one review. He looked at some studies."

In a statement issued by the association, officials note that most "mainstream" energy drinks typically contain half the caffeine found in regular coffeehouse coffee. A 16-oz cup of coffeehouse coffee has about 320 milligrams of caffeine, according to the statement, while a typical 16-oz mainstream energy drink has 160 mg.

If labels should be required on energy drinks, Storey says, coffeehouse coffee should also be required to label caffeine content.

Most companies market their energy drinks responsibly, the association contends. Only a few companies give the products illicit or suggestive names (such as Cocaine, an energy drink that triggers controversy).

"Energy drinks can be part of a balanced lifestyle when consumed sensibly," the statement reads.

Energy Drinks: Griffiths' Response

Griffiths stands by his proposal to require warning labels on the energy drinks with the highest caffeine content, although he is not certain what that threshold should be.

There's a difference, he says, in the marketing of energy drinks and marketing of traditional caffeine beverages. The energy drink makers, he says, ''are marketing to vulnerable populations."

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