What has ER MDs worried, congressmen fuming, and the FDA & FTC deliberating?

December 18, 2012

Jeff Nedelman

Answer: Energy drinks "“ beverages that contain large doses of caffeine, sugar, and a witch's brew of chemicals such as citicoline, tyrosine, phenylalanine, taurine, malic acid, glucuronolactone, unspecified natural and artificial flavors, sucralose, potassium sorbate, and sodium benzoate.

This exclusive First Stop Health article that cites peer-reviewed and published journal material finds:

There is controversy regarding the neuropsychiatric effects of caffeine. Caffeine intake is associated with a wide range of psychiatric symptoms and disorders, but there is no evidence of causality. This study indicates acute caffeine intake is associated with anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, irritability, and even panic attacks in healthy volunteers.

Energy drinks have been associated with serious, life-threatening events, including heart attacks, convulsions, and one spontaneous abortion, according to the New York Times' review of Food and Drug Administration records. It is these conditions, especially the consumption of energy drinks by young people, that have public health officials worried and members of Congress demanding answers from the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission.

There are about 48 mg/serving of caffeine in a caffeinated soda. An average cup of coffee contains between 95 to 200 mg/serving, except if you drink a Starbucks Pike Brew, which tops out at 330 mg/serving. Energy drinks contain around between 50-3750 mg/serving. According to the March of Dimes, young women or women who are thinking about getting pregnant should consume no more than 200 mg/day.

On Capitol Hill, there is an effort underway to cajole both the FTC and the FDA into regulatory action. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has said: "The amount of caffeine and other additives in many of these energy drinks is way in excess of what is healthy for children and adolescents"¦. Stronger oversight and awareness through warnings and other possible measures are clearly needed."

And Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee added: "The advertising claims made by energy drink makers are particularly disturbing when they are targeted to appeal to younger audiences, especially since the FDA has not substantiated the health claims."

So how much caffeine is safe? For most consumers the advice is straightforward: Get the caffeine content of what you put in your mouth, whether it is chocolate, coffee, tea, a soda, an energy drink, or over-the-counter medication. There seems to be general scientific agreement that 200 mg of caffeine a day is safe for most people.

Manufacturers continue to state that their products are safe. The Capitol Hill grapevine reports that FDA may refer the issue to the National Institute of Health for further review and guidance.

Jeff Nedelman has more than 30 years of experience in various industries, including a stint as a Chief of Staff to a U.S. Senator and chief lobbyist for the nation's largest food trade association. In all those years, Jeff has learned that the shortest distance between two political points is not a straight line.

Originally published Dec 18, 2012 10:00:41 AM.