One hundred scientists and physicians have written a letter to the Food and Drug Administration asking for more regulation of increasingly popular energy drinks because their high caffeine content puts young drinkers at possible risk for caffeine intoxication and higher rates of alcohol-related injuries.
The letter was written by Roland Griffiths, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. It asked the FDA to require the drinks’ caffeine content be listed on the can, to set a limit on the amount of stimulant allowed in the drinks and to require warning labels.
The U.S. market for the drinks is estimated at $5.4 billion in 2006, according to Packaged Facts, growing at an annual rate of 55 percent per year.
The United States is the world’s largest consumer by volume of energy drinks, roughly 290 million gallons in 2007, according to Zenith International, a British consulting group. Americans drink 3.8 quarts per person per year.
Griffiths also was a senior author on a September paper on caffeinated energy drinks in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Red Bull, the best-selling energy drink in the United States, contains 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8.3-ounce can, said spokeswoman Patrice Radden, about the equivalent of a cup of coffee.
She said that’s well below the 400 milligrams per day caffeine limit at which “the general population is not at risk from potential adverse effects from caffeine,” according to health authorities worldwide.
The drinks are aggressively marketed to young men as performance enhancers with ads and promotions often linked to extreme sports. The market in the United States began with the introduction of Red Bull in 1997 but has expanded rapidly. The drinks are advertised as able to increase concentration, endurance, reaction time and concentration, with names such as Full Throttle, AMP Energy and No Fear.
It’s the wide variations between brands that are a danger, Griffiths said.
“You can pick up a can and drink it and get 50 milligrams, which is the amount in a Mountain Dew, or pick one up and get 500 milligrams, and that’s enough to put someone who hasn’t built up a tolerance to caffeine into caffeine intoxication, resulting in nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, tremors and rapid heart rate,” Griffiths said.
In a statement, the American Beverage Association said lumping mainstream energy drinks with moderate amounts of caffeine with “companies seeking attention and increased sales based solely on extreme names and caffeine content” was unhelpful.
As for caffeine content, “consumers can easily find out how much caffeine is in a beverage by calling the company’s 1-800 number or visiting its Web site” for those drinks that don’t list content on their labels, the association said.
Energy drinks also are frequently used as a mixer with alcohol, Griffiths said.
“There’s good evidence that when you do that, people are less able to discriminate how intoxicated they are, so they’re more likely to get into alcohol-related accidents,” he said.
The FDA does not comment on petitions, said spokesman Michael Herndon.
Caffeine in top-selling drinks
Drink Caffeine (mg) Can size (oz.)
Amp 75 8.4
Full Throttle 144 16
Monster 160 16
No Fear 174 16
Red Bull 80 8.3
Rock star 160 16
Sole Adrenaline Rush 79 8.3
Tab Energy 95 10.5
Bookoo Energy 360 24
Fixx 500 20
Wired X505 505 24
Brewed coffee 77-150 6
Coca-Cola Classic 34.5 12
Dr Pepper 41 12
Mountain Dew 54 12
Pepsi-Cola 38 12
Source: Packaged Facts, Roland Griffiths