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Could Energy Drinks Kill You?


Energy drinks are causing a buzz lately, and we’re not talking about the kick-start that they claim to provide; instead, they’re all over the news.

Last Thursday the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they’re investigating 13 deaths and 33 hospitalizations for conditions including heart attacks, convulsions, and one case of a spontaneous abortion tied to 5-Hour Energy Drink. This news comes only a few weeks after the agency began looking into five deaths linked to Monster Energy drink.

While many experts have questioned the safety of energy drinks since the beverages came out on the market, these new reports have even more wondering if they should buy them, let alone if these products should be allowed to be sold.

Most energy drinks include caffeine, but it’s the caffeine in conjunction with other ingredients that can be a problem, John P. Higgins, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the University of Texas told SHAPE in an earlier post. "It is likely that there are effects due to the interaction of substances in energy beverages which have had little research done on them and are not well understood," he says.

However, others say the caffeine isn’t the problem. "Ninety percent of the adult population consumes caffeine daily," Gerry David, president and CEO of Celsius Holdings, Inc., says. "At Celsius we have completed seven clinical studies on the finished product itself, not just the ingredients and we did not see any adverse effects.”

But too much of anything can be bad, David says. “Sugar can affect people badly, as can too much chocolate, cheese, and even yogurt. They can all cause the same negative effects that energy drinks can."

Whatever the exact cause of these deaths, it’s probably best to pass on energy drinks. Since they’re marketed as supplements, they're not approved by the FDA, meaning there's no limit to the amount of caffeine they can contain, and they don't have to put the amount on the label.

And even if they do, those labels aren’t always accurate. In a test of 27 energy drinks by Consumer Reports, 16 products contained 20 percent more caffeine than what their packages claimed.

Healthy adults can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine daily (if you’re pregnant, max out at 200 mg), according to Consumer Reports. Here’s what 400 milligrams of various caffeinated beverages and foods adds up to, using data for typical serving sizes from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

SourceSizeTotal amount of caffeine400 mg serving (approximate)
Coke (Coca-Cola classic)20oz bottle58mg7 bottles
Excedrin Migraine2 tablets135mg6 tablets
Black tea8oz53mg60oz
Dark chocolate1.5oz31mg19.5oz
Monster Energy drink16oz160mg2.5 cans
5-Hour Energy Drink1.93oz207mg2 shots
Amp16oz143mg3 cans
Red Bull8.3oz80mg5 cans
Espresso shot1oz40mg10 shots

We doubt someone would drink 10 shots of espresso in a day, but it's not rare to down two 5-Hour Energy shots or a little more than two cups of coffee in 24 hours, and even two and a half cans of Monster Energy wouldn't be out of the question for some.

Of course, there are plenty of ways to bring back your pep when you’re dragging without energy drinks. Try one of these energy-boosting, healthy alternatives to coffee, or rev it up with one of these instant, all-natural ways to energize yourself.

And if you find yourself constantly fatigued even though you're following a healthy diet and active lifestyle, visit your doctor—an underlying medical condition could be the culprit.


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