Regulators and health advocates have been pouring scalding criticism on high-caffeine energy drinks the last few years following reports of death and illness unofficially attributed to the potent drinks.
But now the energy drinks are fighting back. Monster Beverage, makers of Monster Energy, and Rockstar Energy are changing their labels and product descriptions to wriggle out from under the jurisidiction of the Food and Drug Administration.
Henceforth, Monster and Rockstar drinks will be marketed as beverages rather than dietary supplements. Among the advantages of the change -- the companies will not be obligated to inform the feds when they learn of deaths and injuries attributed to their products.
Monster will also be disclosing its caffeine content for the first time and the results may surprise some critics. According to the company, a 16-ounce can of Monster's leading drinks contain 140 to 160 milligrams of caffeine, less than half the 330 mg found in a 16-ounce cup of Starbucks coffee.
The moves come as criticism of the drinks grows. Earlier this week, a group of 18 doctors and researchers urged the FDA to do more to protect adolescents and children from the possible risks of high caffeine consumption.
Potential health risks
“There is evidence in the published scientific literature that the caffeine levels in energy drinks pose serious potential health risks,” they said. But Monster has been fighting back against such allegations.
5-hour Energy was the most recent target of regulators' wrath, with the FDA charging the drinks may have caused 13 deaths and made 33 people seek hospital care.
The makers of the energy drink, Living Essentials, said it hasn’t seen any proof that would suggest its product has caused the death or hospitalization of any of its customers.
“5-hour is unaware of any deaths proven to have been caused by the consumption of 5-hour Energy,” said Living Essentials. “It is important to note that submitting a serious adverse event report to the FDA, according to the agency itself, is not construed by FDA as an admission that the dietary supplement was involved caused or contributed to the adverse event being reported.”
Could be but health and nutrition experts say there is little to recommend the drinks.“There’s nothing healthy about energy drinks. Even though they promise an energy boost they’re often packed with sugar, calories and excessive caffeine,” said Karen Ansel, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Ansel says what can be dangerous about drinks like Rock Star and 5-Hour Energy is their strange combination of unnatural ingredients.
“The concern with many energy drinks on the market is that they combine many ingredients not usually found together in nature," she said in a ConsumerAffairs interview. “As a result, people who don’t know that they have underlying conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure or seizure disorders may unknowingly be susceptible to dangerous elevations in blood pressure and heart rate or the risk of seizures.”
“In addition, energy drinks are easy to chug much faster than you would ever drink a cup of coffee so you could end up inhaling much more caffeine than you normally would from more natural sources such as coffee or tea. The labels of some of these suggest limits as to how much is safe per day, but few people actually read the label," Ansel said.