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Inaccurate caffeine labeling of energy drinks may have serious health consequences

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
cafeine, energy drinks, fals lebeling, health hazard, heart disease, glaucoma

Consumers may be unaware of the caffeine content of their energy drink because the labels on these beverages do not always list their caffeine content; furthermore, when the caffeine content is listed, it may be inaccurate. This finding was released on October 25 in Consumer Reports magazine.

The Consumer Reports study noted that 11 of the 27 top-selling energy drinks in the US do not specify the amount of caffeine in their beverages. Furthermore, of the 16 drinks that did list a specific caffeine amount, five had more caffeine per serving than was listed and the average amount of caffeine excess was greater than 20%.

Some consumers may not even be aware that energy drinks usually contain caffeine and other may lack concern for the caffeine content of the beverage. However, inaccuracy in the labeling of caffeine content can be detrimental to one’s health. For example individuals with certain heart conditions or glaucoma can be adversely impacted by caffeine. Currently, US health regulators are investigating reports of five deaths that may be associated with Monster Beverage Corp’s Monster Energy drink, which currently is the top-selling energy drink in the nation. The family of a 14-year-old girl who had a heart condition has filed a lawsuit against Monster Beverage Corp; it alleges that the energy drink resulted in the death of the girl who expired after drinking two Monster Energy drinks in a 24-hour period. In regard to glaucoma, some recent studies have reported that ingesting more than the equivalent of two cups of coffee can bring on or worsen glaucoma in susceptible individuals.

The Monster Beverage lawsuit as well as reports of other deaths could escalate calls for labeling changes from critics including two US senators and the New York attorney general about the safety of the beverages and the way they are marketed. A factor in the labeling deficiencies is that companies are averse to giving away their secret recipes. However, the major factor is that at present, labeling caffeine content is not required. A Monster Beverage official told Consumer Reports, “There is no legal or commercial business requirement to do so, and because our products are completely safe, and the actual numbers are not meaningful to most consumers.”

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Consumer reports noted that the caffeine levels in the drinks tested ranged from about 6 milligrams per serving for 5-Hour Energy Decaf, made by Living Essentials, to 242 milligrams for 5-Hour Energy Extra Strength. The drinks that were found to contain more caffeine than was listed on their labels included Arizona Energy, Clif Shot Turbo Energy Gel, Sambazon Organic Amazon Energy, as well as Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc.’s Venom Energy and Nestle Jamba, sold by a partnership of Nestle and Jamba Inc. The report found one example of a beverage that contained less caffeine than advertised. One sample of Archer Farms Energy Drink Juice Infused beverage had about 70% less caffeine than advertised. Archer Farms is the private label of retailer Target Corp.

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. It is found in varying quantities in the seeds, leaves, and fruit of some plants, where it acts as a natural pesticide that paralyzes and kills certain insects feeding on the plants. It is most commonly consumed by humans in infusions extracted from the seed of the coffee plant and the leaves of the tea bush, as well as from various foods and drinks containing products derived from the kola nut. Other sources include yerba maté, guarana berries, guayusa, and the yaupon holly.

The stimulant effect temporarily wards off drowsiness and restores alertness. It is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug; however, unlike many other psychoactive substances, it is both legal and unregulated in nearly all parts of the world. Beverages containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks, enjoy great popularity; in North America, 90% of adults consume caffeine daily. Caffeine is toxic at sufficiently high doses.

Take home message:
Labeling caffeine content of energy drinks has merit; however, individuals should be aware of the caffeine they consume in coffee and tea. One must be aware that decaf coffee is not caffeine free. The label mays state that it is “98% caffeine free.” However, one must be aware that the bulk of the coffee bean is not caffeine: regular coffee is 96% caffeine free. Thus, approximately half the caffeine is still present. Two cups of decaf has about the same content as one cup of regular coffee. As in most things in life, moderation is the key.

Reference: Consumer reports

See also:
Caffeine reported to benefit patients with Parkinson's disease
Reduce your heart failure risk with coffee
Coffee reported to ward off dementia
Green tea improves seniors' cognitive function