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Energy Drinks: Hazardous to Your Health?

Products Need Warning Labels, Scientist Says; Industry Contends They're Safe to Drink
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 24, 2008 -- Caffeinated energy drinks that promise super alertness -- and sometimes imply better sports performance -- should carry labels that specify their amount of caffeine, says a Johns Hopkins University scientist.

Drinks with the highest caffeine content should also warn of potential health dangers, says Roland Griffiths, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and senior author of a new report on the beverages.

"Many of these drinks do not label the caffeine content," he says, and some energy drinks contain as much caffeine as found in 14 cans of soda.

The industry begs to differ, with spokespeople pointing out that most "mainstream" energy drinks contain the same amount of caffeine, or even less, than you'd get in a cup of brewed coffee. If labels listing caffeine content are required on energy drinks, they should also be required on coffeehouse coffee, says Maureen Storey, PhD, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association.

Energy Drinks: The Back Story

Since Red Bull, the first energy drink to hit the U.S. market, launched in 1997, the market has boomed, Griffiths says, now totaling at least $5.4 billion a year in the U.S. Hundreds of brands are available.

Although the FDA limits the caffeine contents of cola-type soft drinks to 71 milligrams per 12 fluid ounces, no such limit is required on energy drinks, Griffiths tells WebMD.

"Makers of so-called "energy" drinks generally market them as dietary supplements," says Siobhan DeLancey, an FDA spokesperson. Dietary supplements are regulated differently than food. The FDA does not approve or review the products before they are marketed.

Energy Drinks: Caffeine Content

Griffiths and his colleagues contacted more than two dozen makers of energy drinks, asking for caffeine content. Here are some of the findings:

(The caffeine content is in milligrams per serving. Although serving sizes vary, Griffiths contends that most people will drink the entire can, whatever the number of ounces.)

  • Red Bull: 80 milligrams per 8.3-ounce serving
  • Tab Energy: 95 mg per 10.5-oz serving
  • Monster and Rockstar: 160 mg per 16-oz serving
  • No Fear: 174 mg per 16-oz serving
  • Fixx: 500 per 20-oz serving
  • Wired X505: 505 mg per 24-oz serving

In comparison, according to Griffiths:

  • Brewed coffee: 200 milligrams per 12-oz serving
  • Instant coffee: 140 mg per 12-oz serving
  • Brewed tea: 80 mg per 12-oz serving
  • Mountain Dew: 54 mg per 12 oz. serving
  • Dr. Pepper: 41 mg per 12-oz serving
  • Pepsi Cola: 38 mg per 12-oz serving
  • Coca-Cola Classic: 34.5 mg per 12-oz serving
  • Canned or bottled tea: 20 mg per 12-oz serving

Some of the energy drinks have lower caffeine contents, Griffith says. Among the lower doses:

  • Bomba Energy has 75 mg per 8.4-oz serving
  • Whoop Ass has 50 mg per 8.5-oz serving

 

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