Caffeinated energy drinks have become very popular in recent years, particularly among young people. But evidence of the possible dangers of energy drinks continues to emerge, prompting many advocates and health experts to call for restrictions on their sale.
Concern over the dangers is flaring this week after The New York Times reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received reports of 13 deaths in the past four years that may be linked to 5-Hour Energy, an energy drink that is sold as a "shot" and has less volume than most others on the market. This comes just a few weeks after it was reported that the FDA has received reports of five deaths in the past year that may be linked to the Monster brand of energy drinks.
Energy drinks have faced intense criticism for years over potentially containing excessive levels of caffeine. Beverage industry associations and energy drink manufacturers have repeatedly stated that their products are safe and that they contain amounts of caffeine that are comparable to a cup of coffee.
An eight-ounce, or 237-millilitre, cup of coffee contains about 135 milligrams of caffeine, according to Health Canada.
The amount of synthetic caffeine added to items such as pop and energy drinks typically appear on the product label. The problem is that energy drinks are often made with caffeine-containing herbal ingredients that may not be disclosed as such on the label, or be tallied into the caffeine count. As a result, consumers may be consuming far more caffeine than they realize.
Health experts say this is particularly worrisome considering energy drinks are popular among young people, who shouldn't be consuming high levels of caffeine. Children between ages 10 to 12 should consume only 85 milligrams of caffeine a day, according to Health Canada. Adults should limit their caffeine consumption to 400 milligrams a day, the agency says.
Consuming energy drinks could put both adolescents and adults at risk of exceeding the limit for safe caffeine consumption.
A recent report on energy drinks by Consumer Reports magazine found they contain a range of caffeine levels, from six milligrams in 5-Hour Energy's decaf energy shot to 242 milligrams in 5-Hour Energy's extra strength flavour shot. The magazine also found that several energy drinks contained caffeine levels higher than what was stated on the product label.
Health Canada announced it was making changes last year to limit the potential dangers of energy drinks. Under the changes, energy drinks sold in Canada can contain no more than 180 milligrams in a single serving. But many experts criticized this move as too weak, considering 180 milligrams is more than double the amount of caffeine a 10- to 12-year-old should consume in a day. An expert panel advised Health Canada to adopt other measures, such as limiting the sale of energy drinks to minors and restricting their sale to behind pharmacy counters, but those changes weren't adopted.