Recently, there has been a lot of controversy about so-called energy drinks. These are caffeinated drinks sold as energy boosters. They may be carbonated or uncarbonated and can be found at just about any convenience store or gas station. Many come in large-sized cans, but an increasing number are of the “shot” variety, coming in a single small bottle or can that can be downed in just about one gulp.
San Francisco sues Monster for marketing energy drink to kids
A fight between Monster Beverage and San Francisco’s city attorney is intensifying. The city attorney is filing a lawsuit against Monster Beverage Corp, the maker of Monster Energy Drinks, accusing the company of marketing to young children.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera said Monday that Monster markets it highly caffeinated drinks to children as young as 6 years old, despite scientific findings that such products can cause health problems including severe cardiac events.
The lawsuit comes after Monster last week sued Herrera over his demands that it reduce the caffeine levels in its drinks and stop marketing to minors.
On Monday, Herrera noted that his office had been working with Monster in “good faith to negotiate voluntary changes” when the company abruptly filed its lawsuit.
New York’s attorney general has subpoenaed energy drink makers including Monster about how the drinks are made and marketed, and Democratic Senators Richard Durbin of Illinois and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have repeatedly called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to look into the safety of the drinks.
Monster has been in the spotlight since October 2012, when the parents of 14-year-old Anais Fournier of Hagerstown, Md. sued the company after their daughter went into cardiac arrest after drinking two of popular energy drinks in 24 hours.
The FDA said in Oct. 2012 it was investigating five deaths and one heart attack linked to Monster Energy Drinks dating back to 2004. One can contains about 240 milligrams of caffeine.
The company denied its drink’s role in the girl’s death in March, with company lawyer Daniel Callahan telling the Associated Press at the time that physicians hired to review the girl’s case determined she died from natural causes, brought on by pre-existing heart conditions.
Oh great, my own Senator, Dick Blumenthal is now getting himself involved. In fact, Blumenthal does not just think that the drinks should not be marketed directly to minors, he actually has suggested that an ID be required to buy them, making them only available to those over 18. Presumably meaning they be kept behind the counter and being subject to carding like cigarettes and alcohol. (Sorry, I do not have a citation for that, as I heard this when he was speaking on a radio interview.)
There are a couple of problems with this:
- Energy drinks, for all the hype are really nothing more than caffeinated beverages. What makes an “energy drink” different than something like Coca-Cola or Pepsi is arbitrary. Many have more caffeine than common sodas, but some don’t. In general, all have much less caffeine than coffee, which, could legitimately be marketed as an energy drink, but usually is not.
- There is no evidence that would indicate that there is anything especially dangerous about energy drinks. It’s true that they are not very nutritious as far as foodstuffs go. They’re loaded with sugar and their claims of having beneficial vitamins and enzymes are, at best dubious, but that does not make them any worse than any other soft drink.
- The amount of caffeine in energy drinks is not so high as to preclude one from getting an equal or greater dose of the stuff from other means. In other words, if you are going to go after energy drinks, you had best be ready to go after a large portion of soft drinks out there.
The example of Anais Fournier is certainly unfortunate, but there’s no reason to think that two Monster Energy Drink. Based on the reports, she apparently drank two of the drinks over the period of 24 hours. That means she had about 320 milligrams of caffeine during that period of time.
There is a great deal of hype over energy drinks, what they do and what active ingredients they may contain. The truth is that, for all their claims of providing lasting energy from enzymes, vitamins, minerals, or some other special compound, they all work in exactly the same way that “energy drinks” have been working for centuries.
Although caffeine, the active ingredient in energy drinks was not isolated until 1820, the stimulating effects of caffeine-containing plant material, such as coffee beans, tea leaves and kola nuts had been known since antiquity.
Brewed coffee, which became popular across the Middle East and Europe in the 1600′s, remains one the largest sources of caffeine. And, overall, brewed coffee is at least as potent a caffeine source as most energy drinks.
Common Ingredients which will not actually provide energy:
The following substances are common in energy drinks, and are often claimed to be the reason why these drinks produce an increase in alertness or energy. Not all energy drinks contain all the substances listed.
Creatine - Of all the substances in energy drinks that are reputed to produce energy, (aside from sugar and caffeine) this one is at least the most plausible. Creatine is a substance that is used as an energy source by skeletal muscles. Creatine is found in a number of supplements, primarily targeted at athletes. Studies have shown that creatine supplementation does produce a small, but significant improvement in endurance for aerobic exertion, but appears to have no significant effect on aerobic endurance. Extended use of creatine supplements have been shown to have effects on insulin-like growth factor and testosterone levels.
There is no evidence that creatine has any effect on alertness or energy in general. It does not produce stimulant-like effects and the ability to improve anerobic function is unlikely to have any noticeable effect on overall energy or endurance.
Ginseng - A plant native to the mainland Asia, which has been used in traditional medicines for centuries. There are also similar plant species known s “Russian Ginseng” or “American Ginseng.” Extracts of the plant tend to be expensive, so if energy drinks do contain them, they do not contain very much.
Ginseng has been reputed to be an aphrodisiac, a stimulant, a treatment for fatigue, a memory enhancer and a cure for various types of sexual dysfunction. There has been a great deal of research on ginseng, and while it may have some therapeutic properties (although that remains in dispute) it does not seem to have any obvious stimulant-like effects, at least in the short term.
Large quantities of ginseng may p0roduce effects including diarrhea, skin irritation and potential interactions with prescription drugs. Placebo-controlled studies have failed to show any significant effect on performance or alertness.
Ginkgo biloba – Also known as the maidenhair tree, Ginkgo biloba is a tree or shrub native to Japan and East Asia, which has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. Extracts are reputed to aid memory and mental function and to be an aphrodisiac. It is used in some traditional Chinese recipes and is brewed into herbal teas.
Placebo-controlled studies onto the effectiveness of ginkgo biloba have delivered mixed results. There is limited data which seems to indicate a positive effect on cardiovascular disease, in some individuals. Most studies that have examined the effect of ginkgo bilbao have found it is not effective in improving memory or mental performance.
It should be noted that the claims of benefit from ginkgo biloba are all based on the long-term use of the substance as a supplement. There are no credible claims of any acute effect from a single dose, other than the possibility of toxicity in very large doses. There is no evidence that ginko biloba has any acute stimulating effect.
Vitamins -There is no doubt that sufficient vitamins are vital to human health, and many energy drinks are fortified with vitamins. The body requires vitamins in for basic biological processes to work properly, and bellow certain levels, vitamin deficiencies can cause a variety of health problems. In the first world, acute deficiencies tend to be rare, with a few exceptions. Vegans and vegetarians may be deficient of vitamin B-12 if they do not take supplements or seek non-animal sources (although this has disputed). Those with gastric problems may not properly absorb all vitamins sufficiently. Supplements of vitamin B9 (folic acid) are often recommended for pregnant women.
In cases where sufficient levels of vitamins are already available, providing higher doses does not appear to have any detectable benefit. In most circumstances, levels beyond those needed by biological processes will simply result in the body excreting the excess vitamins, although toxicity is possible with very high doses. While the levels present in energy drinks are generally not high enough to raise concerns about toxicity, they are unlikely to contribute much to improved health, unless the individual already has sub-optimal vitamin levels.
Even in cases where vitamin levels may be sub-optimal, a single oral dose of vitamins will not provide a noticeable acute effect. Adequate nutrition must be maintained for the body to function properly and avoid the symptoms associated with vitamin deficiency, but this is an ongoing need and a single dose of vitamin-supplemented energy drinks will not produce an increase in energy.
That is about as much as drinking one medium-sized cup of coffee. In other words, unless you already have some very severe underlying problems, it will not cause you anything worse than a case of the jitters, and that’s only if you’re a real lightweight when it comes to caffeine.
Ingredients which will sometimes, but not usually, give you energy:
Sugar - Sugar is present in many energy drinks, but is absent from the diet versions. It may be in the form of sucrose, cane sugar, but is more often in the form of high fructose corn syrup, since that tends to be cheaper.
The human body certainly does need sugar in order to produce energy. Enzymes break down complex sugars to glucose, which is metabolized in individual cells to produce energy. This, however, does not mean that consuming sugar will result in an immediate and noticeable increase in energy. Despite the pervasive myth of the “sugar high,” the consumption of sugar does not usually increase energy levels. There are several reasons for this. One is that the availability of sugar is not usually the limiting factor in cellular energy production. Another is that the human body tends to maintain a relatively stable level of blood sugar. While blood sugar does fluctuate and is affected by diet, the effect of this on energy levels is minor. Double-blind studies have found no coloration between sugar consumption and immediate energy.
There are a few exceptions to this. In individuals who have diabetes, and must regulate their blood sugar through the use of artificial insulin, low blood sugar is common and consuming sugars can correct this. In some cases, healthy individuals may have especially low blood sugar after a period of fasting or if they are have a great deal of athletic exertion and have not eaten in a while. In such circumstances, a little extra sugar may be helpful.
Still, based on all available evidence, for most people, a little extra sugar is not going to produce immediate, noticeable increases in endurance or alertness.
Ingredients which actually will give you energy:
Caffeine – Yes, that’s it. That’s the only item on the list. All energy drinks contain caffeine and many contain lots of it. It’s an effective stimulant. It will make you more alert, it will temporarily ward off drowsiness. It will increase endurance, at least to a point. Caffeine content in energy drinks varies quite a bit, but most have sufficient caffeine to give a noticeable increase in energy.
The bottom line is energy drinks, for all their marketing and supposedly beneficial additives are just delivery vehicles for caffeine. That doesn’t mean they don’t work. They are every bit as effective as any other method of getting caffeine. Caffeine has been used for centuries to improve alertness and endurance. Whether it comes in the form of a pill, a carbonated soda or coffee, the effects are the same.
How energy drinks stack up against other sources of caffeine:
Compared to other caffeine sources, energy drinks are actually not abnormally high.
- Monster Energy Drink (16 fl. oz. – Large sized can) – 160 mg
- AMP Energy Boost Original (16 fl. oz. – Large sized can) – 142 mg
- Full Throttle (16 fl. oz. – Large sized can) – 200 mg
- NOS Energy(16 fl. oz. – Large sized can) – 260 mg
- NOS Power Shot (2 fl. oz. – Small bottle) – 125 mg
- Rock Star (16 fl. oz. – Large sized can) – 120 mg
- Rockstar Punched Guava (20 fl. oz – Extra large can) – 339 mg
- Rockstar Energy Shot (2.5 fl oz – Small bottle) – 200 mg
- Red Bull (8.46 fl oz – Small can) – 80 mg
- Red Bull (11.1 fl oz – Medium can) – 106 mg
- Red Bull Energy Shot (2 fl oz – Small Bottle) – 200 mg
- Five Hour Energy (2 fl oz – Small Bottle) – 200 mg
- Brewed Tea (one cup black tea, brewed from bag about 3 min): 30-80mg
- Bottled Ice Tea (12-18.5 ounce bottle major brands): 30-60mg
- Starbucks Brand Tazo (Grande, 16 ounces): 95-135 mg (depends on variety)
- Dunken Donuts Medium Coffee: 178 mg
- Starbucks Large “venti” coffee: 415 mg
- Starbucks Medium “grande” coffee: 330 mg
- One cup of major brand brewed coffee: 100-175 mg
- Large Esperesso (major brands, such as Starbucks or Dunken Donuts): 130-165 mg
- Coca-Cola (one 12 ounce/355 ml bottle): 35 mg
- Diet Coke (one 12 ounce/355 ml bottle): 47 mg
- Pepsi (one 12 ounce/355 ml bottle): 38 mg
- Diet Pepsi (one 12 ounce/355 ml bottle): 35 mg
- Pepsi Max(one 12 ounce/355 ml bottle) : 69 mg
- Mountain Dew (one 12 ounce/355 ml bottle): 54 mg
Other Sources of Caffeine
- No Doz brand Caffeine tablets (per tablet) – 100 mg
- Maximum strength No Doz tablets (per tablet) – 200 mg
- Crackheads Espresso Bean Candies, hyper – 600 mg
- Crackheads Espresso Bean Candies, regular – 200 mg
- Perky Jerky (caffeinated jerky -par package) – 150 mg
- Jolt Caffeinated gum – 45 mg
Five Hour Energy: The High Caffeine, Small Bottle Energy Drink
Five Hour Energy stands out amongst the so-called “energy drinks” for its extremely high caffeine concentration and for the small volume of the product. In fact, it’s really not a drink at all. It’s more like a shot, coming in a small bottle of only about 60 milliliters (2 fl oz). Certainly not enough to actually quench ones thirst, but enough to deliver quite a bit of caffeine.
While the product does not list its caffeine content, other than to say “about as much as a cup of coffee,” at least two independent labs have analyzed the product. Consumerlab determined the caffeine content to be 207 mg per bottle, while Consumer Reports determined it to be 215 mg for the original version and 242 mg for the extra strength version of the product. That is quite a bit of caffeine for such a small amount of product.
However, even if Five Hour Energy does contain upwards of 240 mg of caffeine, that still does not mean that consuming it would result in more caffeine than other sources can provide. Even the smallest serving size of coffee at Starbucks – the 12 fl oz “tall” coffee cup provides more caffeine, at 260 mg. The largest cup of coffee available at Starbucks provides a whopping 415 mg of caffeine.
Still, the argument could be made that the small size of five hour energy makes it feasible for a person to consume far more caffeine in a short period of time than they might otherwise. A person could, quite easily, down five or six bottles of Five Hour Energy at once. That would be a stupid thing to do, given that the product warns you not to do so. Five hour energy can be bought in cartons of five bottles. A teenager on a dare or someone looking to see how much buzz they can get just might drink the whole thing at once.
Doing so would result in upwards of 1500 milligrams of caffeine. That’s quite a lot of the stuff. In general, that should not be enough to kill anyone, at least, providing they do not have a heart condition or some other drug in their system, but it’s more caffeine than anyone would generally want to have and would certainly result in some unpleasant symptoms.
Of course, it’s also not impossible for someone to be exposed to an equally high amount of caffeine from sources other than energy drinks. Four large cups of Starbucks coffee would result in an even higher dose of caffeine, although one might argue that it would be a lot harder to put down that much coffee in one sitting and would be especially unappealing to children. Caffeinated candies or tablets seem like a more realistic way of getting that much caffeine, although it would have to be intentional. Still, I’ve seen some people manage to consume some pretty extreme amounts of coffee in a short period of time, so it certainly could happen.
Additionally, if one considers the quantity of caffeine in five hour energy drink, as compared to products like caffeine tablets, caffeinated candies and gums, the actual amount of caffeine seems quite mild. If you wanted to get a very large dose of caffeine, you could do so more easily with crackheads espresso bean candies.
Overdosing on Caffeine:
It is certainly possible to die of a caffeine overdose, although it would not be easy to ingest enough caffeine to do so. The standard lethal dose (ld50) of caffeine has been established as 192 milligrams per kilogram in rats. For humans, it is likely to be between 150 and 200 milligrams per kilogram. For an adult, that makes a lethal dose of more than ten grams. It would be lower for smaller individuals and children.
Still, the quantity necessary would mean that an individual would have to be making an extreme effort to get that much caffeine. Taking a handful of No Doz tablets, for example, could be lethal, as could eating a couple dozen boxes of Crackheads Espresso Bean Candies. To get a lethal dose from an energy drink would also require a concerted effort, downing a large number shots of the highest potency “shot” style energy drinks.
Of course, the LD50 does not give the entire picture of toxicity. Caffeine is a stimulant, and at doses well bellow the average lethal dose, a person would experience such things as elevated heart rate, agitation and irritability. These symptoms, although unpleasant, would not be lethal in a healthy individual. However, the increased heart rate and cardiac stress could certainly contribute to arrhythmia or even cardiac arrest in someone who already has a heart condition.
The risk of serious health effects is increased if caffeine is combined with other drugs or with strenuous physical activity. In such circumstances, the caffeine could be a contributing factor to cardiac problems, but again, except for absurdly large doses, this is not likely to be fatal in healthy individuals.
Taking a closer look at the case of Anais Fournier:
A fourteen year old girl died, suddenly and without any apparent warning, and there is no denying that is a tragedy and a terrible loss to her loved ones. However, that does not mean that the circumstances and claims about her death are not worth examination.
Anais Fournier, 14-Year-Old Girl, Dies After Drinking 2 Energy Drinks
A 14-year-old girl from Maryland died last December after downing two Monster energy drinks in a 24-hour-period, according to news reports, and the incident is stirring concern over the safety of the beverages for kids.
It should be noted that the girl, Anais Fournier, had a heart condition, called mitral valve prolapse — which means that one of her heart valves has malfunctioned. The National Institutes of Health reports that the condition is usually harmless, and as many as one in 10 people has a minor form of the condition.
After she drank two of the energy drinks — which together contained 480 milligrams of caffeine — she went into cardiac arrest a day later and died from cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity, TODAY reported.
“She was at the mall with her friends the night before, and had a 24-ounce energy drink,” Fournier’s mother, Wendy Crossland, told the Record Herald. “She drank another one less than 24 hours later, even though she knew I do not allow them because I know they are bad for you. She went into cardiac arrest three hours later at home.”
TODAY reported that the amount of caffeine Fournier drank in the two Monster energy drinks is about the same as that found in 14 cans of Coca Cola — and is almost five times the recommended caffeine limit from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Caffeine is a stimulant, and is found in a multitude of food products, from coffee, to chocolate, to sodas — and the amounts found in those products usually are not enough to cause any harm to health, Medscape noted.
A few things stand out. First, the fact that she had a heart condition. Yes, this condition is normally minor, but we do not know the severity of her condition. Presumably, that would tend to put her at a higher risk than the average person. Caffeine does raise ones heart rate and thus, someone with an underlying condition might be more likely to suffer cardiac problems. However, strenuous activity also increases strain on the heart. Every year, about one hundred children in the US alone suddenly die of cardiac arrest. This often happens when playing sports or during other times of high exertion, when undiagnosed conditions can cause the heart to give out under such stress.
The details given are sketchy, but it sounds as if Anais was probably enjoying a spirited couple of days with friends, which could well contribute to the strain on her weakened heart.
In total, Anais consumed 320 milligrams of caffeine, although not at once. The exact timing is not given, but since it was at least the better part of a day, it is reasonable to assume that by the time she consumed the second drink, most of the caffeine from the first was probably no longer in her body, as caffeine has a standard biological half-life of about five hours.
320 milligrams is indeed the amount of caffeine in fourteen cans of Coca-Cola. Here is how it works out with other products:
It may be a large amount of caffeine for a 14 year old, but it’s not an astronomically high amount. It’s not beyond what 14 year olds consume all the time at day-long parties. I, for one, could easily put down a bottle of mountain dew in a 24 hour period when I was 14.
It would be unreasonable to single out products, simply because they are marketed as “energy drinks” as being especially sinister or dangerous.
This entry was posted on Monday, May 20th, 2013 at 10:04 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Culture, Misc, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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