High caffeine energy drinks under scrutiny

F.D.A. Posts Injury Data Citing Red Bull – NYTimes.com.

The government publicly released reports Friday of injuries that cited the possible involvement of Red Bull, the country’s top-selling energy drink, just days after its producer said it was unaware of such cases.

The Food and Drug Administration posted online 21 reports that had been filed with the agency since 2004 that mentioned Red Bull, including ones that involved hospitalizations for heart problems and vomiting. The mention of a product in a report of an injury or a death does not mean it caused it or contributed to it.

The release of the filings, after similar releases for three other highly caffeinated energy drinks, appears to underscore the crazy-quilt regulatory pattern governing such products. It also highlights the dearth of data that F.D.A. officials are confronting in determining whether to impose additional regulations.

As the manufacturer notes, just because the product is mentioned in these reports, it does not mean the product was related to the deaths. I admit these stories have me concerned. First, the framing does tend to make the reader strongly think the drinks were implicated in the deaths when there is no clear evidence that that is the case.

Also, some are marketed as dietary supplements and some as beverages. The rules differ for each. That IS confusing.

Finally, what about other products implicated in health problems or death? How often is soda or coffee or milk related to a death. Sure, it may have nothing to with the product and the same may be happening here.

Caffeine is an unregulated drug and its use overuse may cause complications. It is toxic at very high doses. I’m unclear if certain medical conditions will make typical caffeine consumption more risky. (Any info on this?)

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  10 comments for “High caffeine energy drinks under scrutiny

  1. Chuck Nelson
    November 18, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    Shortly before the victim stopped breathing, he was breathing. There may be a link.

  2. November 18, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    I used to be a systems analyst (kind of like a higher-ranking computer programmer), who, like lots of fellow programmers, drank far too many sugary, caffeinated beverages. I’m not proud of it. It was part of the programmer lifestyle. I knew it was bad for me. For my birthday one year, co-workers actually bought me a bunch of Mountain Dew, my delivery system of choice at the time. I had some serious sleep problems, which I have no doubt the caffeine contributed to, which would drive me to drink more to keep me awake at work. I was probably in my 40s when the problem got into a vicious circle. So I was certainly old enough to know better. But I did it anyway, because I liked it, and because it kept me working. Until sleep deprivation, and other problems caused me to crash. Obviously, though, in this case, the problem was with me, and my own bad habits. But I also know that I’m not the only person who’s had problems with caffeine.

    Let me just say right now, that I can believe that drinking too many sugary, caffeinated beverages can be harmful. The question is, how many beverages were these people drinking every day, how long was it going on for, and did they have preexisting conditions. Were they getting enough sleep? Did they also have dietary issues?

    I’m personally glad that I got off of my caffeine cycle. I still have sleep issues, but I also do take care of myself better and I know better than most, from experience, that caffeine is no substitute for a good-night’s sleep. I only drink coffee once in a while now if I’m in the mood, and just stick with water for the most part, otherwise.

    BTW, I received a free sample in the mail recently of 5-hour energy. Not only did it taste disgusting, but it made me feel ill, unlike I’ve ever felt when drinking coffee or Mountain Dew. And that was just one dose. I won’t jump to any conclusions on that basis. Maybe I don’t have the tolerance for caffeine that I once did. I don’t know.

  3. Moose McNuggets
    November 18, 2012 at 5:36 PM

    I have a congenital heart arrhythmia (atrial fibrillation), and my first cardiologist cautioned me to limit caffeine consumption. However, this study, if I’m reading it correctly, appears to refute the view that caffeine can induce AF episodes:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257921/

    And this one reached the same conclusion:

    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/81/3/578.long

    Interesting for me, because I hadn’t done a search on this topic in years, and hadn’t asked questions about it of my current cardiologist (who seems to do better at staying abreast of studies than my previous one). I never fully weaned myself off caffeine despite the warnings of over a decade ago when the problem developed, and since the medication has been doing its job, I just kept coffee to a reasonable limit (not a bad thing in itself) and didn’t worry about it.

    Thanks for posting this. I was going to tell you caffeine does play a role in certain cardiac issues, wanted to post studies demonstrating this, and learned something new about my own health in the process.

  4. Mike Y.
    November 18, 2012 at 9:19 PM

    On the other side of the coin, I have heard it said that one reason why adults are diagnosed with ADD less often than children is because many adults essentially self-medicate with coffee (for those who aren’t aware, ADD is – seemingly paradoxically – treated with stimulants). Caffeine, like nearly all drugs, can be beneficial as well as harmful.

  5. Vin
    November 18, 2012 at 11:56 PM

    The clubbing experience here in Australia was VERY different before and after ‘caffeinated alco-pops’ flooded the market (seriously, what did they THINK was gonna happen when they fed essentially ‘redbull with rum’ to 18yr olds?)…..its gone from an enjoyable experience only a few years ago to unpleasant nights of witnessing horrific random violence and sour, pinged-out faces everywhere, with each club now having an atmosphere of barely suppressed violence….ask any career bartender about her experience before and after caffeinated high-sugar (not corn syrup) alco-pops hit the market and there should be enough anecdotal evidence to do further study on why it affects people so profoundly. There has been several calls to ban/restrict them here in Australia.

  6. Rand
    November 19, 2012 at 3:25 PM

    Years ago I tried a “no-doze” caffeine pill when driving late at night on a road trip. I’ll never forget how hard it made my heart pound. It was terrifying. And never again will I be so foolish as to imbibe that level of caffeine. I can see how large quantities of caffeine drinks like red bull could have adverse effects, especially for people with heart conditions. However, I have to wonder how many drinks it would take to reach a high dose level, and if the body is likely to pee it out before it gets high enough. I’m sure there must be a study someplace.

    • November 19, 2012 at 3:28 PM

      I have heard that doctors do suggest certain people not have caffeinated drinks. But when looking up the info on caffeine, this didn’t seem to be stressed. I was surprised.

  7. December 2, 2012 at 7:33 PM

    Do you know how many of the 21 deaths were children? Yea sounds goolish, but I live in Suffolk County NY and they now wnat to ban red bull (and that means all types of drinks) to anyone under the age of 19. thanks.

    • Vin
      December 3, 2012 at 4:18 PM

      Banned? I wish they’d ban them here in Oz (especially the Taurine/Caffeine’d-up alcopops) Thats prob a good thing….the violence rate will drop both on the streets/schools and in homes…..not to mention partial avoidance of the MASSIVE drain that a squillion RedBull pickled livers will place on your NHS in 10 years time (seriously, what do people THINK 10 cans of redbull a day will do to a Human Cardio/Liver/Kidneys?)…

      • Vin
        December 3, 2012 at 4:22 PM

        ooops….Suffolk County in the US….no free National Health Service for YOU then…..in that case, seeing as the Public doesn’t have to pay for RedBull’s Crimes Against Human Organs, the more Redbull Drinkers that remove themselves from the Human Gene Pool, the better…

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