Some quick thoughts on Energy Drinks

I have a number of friends who are quite concerned over this:

Monster Beverage Corp.’s energy drinks have been cited in the deaths of five people in the past year, according to incident reports that doctors and companies submit to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The reports said the victims consumed Monster drinks prior to their deaths, Shelly Burgess, an FDA spokeswoman, said today in a phone interview. The FDA said the incidents, which are voluntarily reported, are considered to be allegations, and no conclusion is drawn until an investigation is completed. Shares of Corona, California-based Monster fell the most since 2008.

These reports came in from 2004-2009. Look, I’m not trying to minimize the issue here. Really. But you have to put this into perspective. For instance, in the report for just 2010 alone there were 130 deaths associated with acetaminophen, 66 with antihistamines, and 12 with antacids. That’s in one year. (Table 18 for those really interested). If I’m reading the tables correctly, energy drinks were associated with no deaths in 2010.

In 2010, battery ingestions killed 2 kids. (Table 17E)

It’s thought that the high dose of caffeine might have combined with an arrhythmia to result in a serious heart problem. But you can also get a lot of caffeine elsewhere. In fact, the Mayo Clinic reports that energy drinks have less caffeine than grande coffee drinks.

So it’s not time to freak out over the fact this occurred. It’s terrible for those involved, and I’m heartbroken for them, but we have to keep policy in perspective. The bottom line here is that some of us should do a better job of managing our personal caffeine intake, especially if we have heart conditions. We should also make sure our kids are aware of the issue, especially if they have heart conditions. Lots of things pose risks to people if they’re predisposed to problems.

One way to help with this would be to actually know how much caffeine is in an energy drink. But since the FDA can’t compel companies making supplements to label their products, no one really knows. Maybe the people screaming about energy drinks could turn their efforts towards informing the public that not all regulations are bad, and perhaps it might be a good idea for us to require supplement products to tell us what’s in them.

UPDATE: edited for clarity.


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