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Monday, January 28, 2013

Energy Drinks: How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

Red Bull, Monster and Jolt are among dozens of  brands of energy drinks marketed as providing mental or physical stimulation.

Red Bull, Monster and Jolt are among the dozens of brands of energy drinks. (Photo: seattlechildrens.org)

The beverage industry is faulting a government study that reports a surge in energy drink-related emergency room visits.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) recently reported that E.R. visits doubled from 2007 to 2001, with teenagers and young adults accounting for most of the 21,000 visits in 2011.

  • Read the full DAWN report

Energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine, and patients exhibit symptoms including rapid heart beat, palpitations, nervousness, anxiety, sleep disturbances and high blood pressure.

“I’m sick and tired of the comparison between energy drinks and coffee… Coffee is bitter, it’s hot, and it’s not a beverage that is served to children.”
– Dr. Mary Claire O'Brien

Monster Beverage Corporation says the report is flawed because it doesn’t take into account other health factors of the patients. Monster also noted that 42 percent of the visits resulted from consuming energy drinks as well as drugs or alcohol.

“I think it’s true that it’s difficult to prove causality,” said Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien, an expert on energy drinks at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

But she points out that more than half of the visits came from people who only drank energy drinks.

Monster also takes issue with the DAWN report for how it compares caffeine in coffee to energy drinks.

Coffee vs. Energy Drinks

The DAWN report calculates that an energy drink contains anywhere from 80 to 500 milligrams of caffeine compared to about 100 mg in a 5-ounce cup of coffee.

But Monster says most people drink 12- or 16-ounce cups of coffee, which puts its product on par with coffee.

Dr. O’Brien finds that comparison troublesome.

“I’m sick and tired of the comparison between energy drinks and coffee. I think it’s ludicrous. Coffee is bitter, it’s hot, and it’s not a beverage that is served to children,” Dr. O’Brien said.

Dr. O’Brien says people tend to drink coffee slowly, compared to the sweet, fruit-flavored energy drinks. And when you buy coffee, you know what you’re getting.

“So an energy drink is not a food. An energy drink is not a drink. An energy drink is a dietary supplement according to the federal government.”
– Dr. Mary Claire O'Brien

“If you walk into a Starbucks for example, and you order a double grande, you know that you’re buying a highly-caffeinated beverage, that’s why you walked in there to buy it. And presumably you’re a grown-up and you’re not 12!” O’Brien said.

No Limit On Caffeine In Energy Drinks

Dr. O’Brien is concerned that energy drinks are marketed to children, and sold alongside sodas, which have government-mandated limits on caffeine. Energy drinks don’t have those same limitations.

The Food and Drug Administration established a safe limit for caffeine in cola-like beverages in 1959 at 200 parts per million (or 71 milligrams for a 12-ounce can of soda, though an average can of Coke has only 35 mg of caffeine).

However, due to a regulatory fluke, energy drinks were classified as dietary supplements when they came on the market in the 1990s.

“So an energy drink is not a food. An energy drink is not a drink. An energy drink is a dietary supplement according to the federal government,” O’Brien said.

And that means there is no limit on the amount of caffeine in energy drinks, nor is there any requirement for them to include information about caffeine content on their labels.

Call For Regulation

Dr. O’Brien said the federal government should regulate the drinks and force them to disclose caffeine on their labels.

Congress has asked energy drink companies to disclose exactly what’s in their products.

Meanwhile, the government is investigating five deaths that may be connected to Monster Beverage and 13 deaths that may be connected to 5-Hour Energy.

The companies dispute that their products were responsible for the deaths.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rena-Marrocco/100000031411712 Rena Marrocco

    So I need to point something out about one of the points your guest made on this topic:  when you go to a coffee shop and order a coffee drink with a “double shot” you are almost, inevitably, given two shots of espresso.  Espresso which is expressed out of the coffee bean (as most big coffee machines in shops do) is very low in caffeine content.  In fact, I believe, that it’s low enough to be called “decaf.”  People think they are getting more caffeine because of the strong flavor, but really they aren’t getting any more caffeine than what is in their original cup of coffee. 
    If your guest had done a thorough investigation of this topic, she would know this.  Therefore, at least for me, her credibility is suspect.

    • Cabanator

      Rena, you are partially correct in pointing out that espresso is not some sort of super-caffeinated concentrate, as many people believe. HOWEVER, it is not a decaf beverage at all. According to the studies I have seen, a 2 oz serving of Starbucks espresso contains 150 mg of caffeine, compared to about 20 mg for a decaf coffee. A regular Starbucks’s venti has 415 mg of caffeine, so if you add 2 espresso shots to it, you’re getting a total of 715 mg of caffeine. Here’s where I got that info: 

      http://www.cspinet.org/new/cafchart.htmThis table is from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. 

  • Shumba

    Never mind whether double shots have much caffeine, the entire comparison is suspect. The guest seemed to think there was a known amount of caffeine in the cup of starbucks, where’s the label there? And the idea of somebody buying an energy drink but not being aware it’s laden with caffeine because the content is unlabeled is laughable. 

  • Someguy

    Every time I hear about stories like this my initial reaction is always “oh they must have something in them I don’t know about!” but that reaction is always overstated after reading/listening when I learn it is yet again a problem with people having any idea what they are putting in their bodies.  If you bought an energy drink and thought it had the same amount of caffeine as a soda then you must like paying for over-priced soda because they are not even near the same price point even if they are located adjacent to each other in a gas station or convenience store. 

    Also to other parents, find out what your kids are consuming be it food, media, etc. I know you can’t keep track of them all the time with what they do with friends and whatnot but you can easily keep track of what they consume at your own home.

  • Valkyrry

    Not everyone is ging to be aware of the potential hazards of caffeine. Our 5th grade daughter came home from school a few weeks ago and related that, following a race around the school, one of the other girls had thrown up because she had drunk a beer, a RED BULL beer… I told her it wasn’t beer but it was STILL a foolish choice.

    • Rick CL

      It may have actually been one. There are energy drinks mixed with alcohol. She may have just said redbull because the brands of companies that make alcohol energy drinks arent popular and the name slipped her mind. I had a friend in highschool that would go to buy an energy drink as 2 for $3, and then when paying say “oh can I mix and match these?” and when the clerk said of course, hed pay and before leaving the store hed go back and exchange one of the energy drinks for the alcohol energy drink. You could even flash your hands full of the two cans to the clerk as you walked out and they wouldnt notice you just walked out with alcohol at 17.

  • Cabanator

    The FDA’s labeling requirements, and lack thereof, have always seemed to me to be flawed. The idea that dietary and herbal supplements aren’t regulated is incredibly strange. How is a consumer supposed to know what’s actually in them? It seems absurd that someone could put however much caffeine they wanted in an energy drink and not ever have to tell the consumer. Caffeine is, after all, a drug! Any drug that you get in a prescription, it is labeled with the mg per serving and the proper dosage. But you could buy an energy drink with 1000 mg of caffeine, and not even know it. 
    I do think energy drinks present a particular danger, not only because they are marketed to young people, but also because they contain a cocktail of several ingredients, not just caffeine, the interactions of which are not really known. When you buy a coffee, you are getting caffeine from coffee beans, that’s it. There’s only so much that can be done to concentrate it, and there aren’t any interactions going on with other ingredients within the beverage itself. These energy drinks have caffeine from coffee beans but also caffeine from guarana, yerba mate, and other ingredients like taurine, creatine, vitamins, and herbal additives. The DAWN report mentioned in this discussion states that, “Research suggests that certain additives may compound the stimulant effects of caffeine.” So who really knows what kind of interactions might be going on between all these ingredients? The scary part is that the consumer doesn’t know, which is why I personally never drink these beverages. 
    Bottom line, the FDA should be regulating whatever is legally sold in this country for consumption, be it herbal, a supplement, or in any other form. We as consumers at least have a right to know what is actually contained in the products being marketed to us, and our tax dollars are paying for this agency to do the job! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    where is oboma with the “if it can save the life of one child” line?

  • Ted

    Caffeine is a drug. Period.
    America is a drug culture.
    Just as there was No Child Left Behind program in schools.
    In the American culture, its No Person Left Undrugged.

     “There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.” 

    Aldous Huxley’s lecture to The California Medical School in San Francisco in 1961

  • J.John


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    up of metabolism in the body, it is because it contains much and about every
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  • Candi Flores

    I’ve been taking The Dr Max Powers BURN  for a little bit (not done with the bottle yet) but I already like how it’s working. I feel an increased amount of energy that’s helping me get motivated to go to the gym (and stay there longer than 15 minutes) and I’m seeing the numbers on the scale dropping consistently. 

    It’s affordable, it arrived quickly, and I don’t experience any side effects from it. I drink at least 12-16oz of water in the morning when I take it before the gym. By the time I make it to the gym around 30 minutes later, I can feel my energy levels up and I’m much more alert than I used to be. After a 45 minute workout, I return home and eat a modest breakfast (eggs, oatmeal, or something similar) and proceed to get my regular day started. 

  • sam

    16 ounce coffee is funny. Don’t get me wrong I got nothing against coffee drinkers. But I get the 3rd degree from them all the time when I drink my one and only one nos per day. my nos has 160 mg of caffeine in it. A 16 ounce normal cup of coffee has around 180mg to 446mg based on brand an type. Then let’s be real most people I work with says easy a half to whole pot a day. A pot is 96oz per pot 12 cups. So thats 6 16 oz cups per pot. So that’s 1080 mg to 2676 mg. An some drink more then that in a day. So please coffee drinkers leave me alone. Side note this site says more than 500 mg a day is not good.http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/caffeine/AN01211 . this might be interesting to some.Coffee

    Type of coffee Size* Caffeine**
    Espresso, restaurant-style 1 oz. (30 mL) 40-75 mg
    Espresso, restaurant-style, decaffeinated 1 oz. (30 mL) 0-15 mg
    Generic brewed 8 oz. (240 mL) 95-200 mg
    Generic brewed, decaffeinated 8 oz. (240 mL) 2-12 mg
    Generic instant 8 oz. (240 mL) 27-173 mg
    Generic instant, decaffeinated 8 oz. (240 mL) 2-12 mg
    McDonald’s brewed 16 oz. (480 mL) 100 mg
    McDonald’s Mocha Frappe 16 oz. (480 mL) 125 mg
    Starbucks Latte 16 oz. (480 mL) 150 mg
    Starbucks Pike Place brewed 16 oz. (480 mL) 330 mg
    Starbucks Pike Place brewed, decaffeinated 16 oz. (480 mL) 25 mg

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