Concern about the relative safety of energy drinks is growing after a Florida mother filed suit against the makers of Monster Energy last week, alleging that the popular energy drink was responsible for the sudden death of her 14-year-old daughter. Now reports released by the Food and Drug Administration show five more people have died in the last three years after consuming Monster Energy, according to The New York Times.
Of course, just because you eat or drink something before you die doesn’t mean it killed you, as the Times is quick to point out. But also worth noting is the fact that “the number of reports that the F.D.A. receives about any product it regulates usually understates by a large degree the actual number of problems.” (In other words, only a small fraction of such reports ever make it to the FDA in the first place.)
Whether Anais Fournier, the teenager who died, will become the poster child for more energy-drink regulation remains to be seen. She reportedly consumed an unspecified number of “large cans” of Monster Energy in the two days before she died from what the medical examiner’s report called “cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity.” But Fournier also suffered from a genetic disorder that can cause weakened blood vessels.
Despite their extreme-sport, adrenaline-pumping, heavy-metal reputation, energy drinks don’t typically contain any more caffeine per ounce than your average cup of coffee. But while most teenagers don’t go around swilling two or three 24-ounce triple-espresso lattes per day, they make up a significant share of the caffeine junkies who have propelled energy drinks like Monster to double-digit market gains in recent years.
But is caffeine even bad for you? What may complicate any effort to regulate the energy drink industry (which currently benefits from marketing its products as “dietary supplements,” thus skirting a number of federal regulations) are recent reports that link moderate consumption of caffeine to a surprising number of health benefits. Its high level of antioxidants may protect against certain kinds of cancer and heart disease, while studies also show a correlation to a decreased risk for type 2 diabetes and even Parkinson’s disease.
Yet proponents of reining in energy drinks like Monster would no doubt point to a key word in that last paragraph: moderation. That’s not exactly something championed by the makers of energy drinks (cue the obligatory sound of motocycle engines revving). Healthy adults consuming less than the equivalent of four cups of coffee per day? Fine. But once you go over that, you’re looking at everything from insomnia and a bad case of the jitters to stomach upset, rapid heartbeat and muscle tremors, according to the Mayo Clinic.
And that’s for adults. As Forbes recently reported, a number of recent studies have warned of the health effects for young people of consuming too much caffeine, including a Journal of Pediatrics study published in 2011 that warned of “palpitations, seizures, strokes, and even sudden death.”
Do you let your children drink energy drinks like monster? Let us know in the comments.