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They’re advertised to teens and young adults and promise to keep you going, but in recent years, energy drinks have been under fire for side effects.

Scientific evidence paints them as dangerous, associated with heart attacks and even death. In fact, hospitalizations related to these products doubled from 2007 to 2011, with most cases related to caffeine overdoses and dimethylamylamine (DMAA). Yet, studies show that one-third of all teens drink these beverages, and that consumers spend $12.5 billion on them alone.

Health Issues

The typical energy drink contains 80 to 141 milligrams of caffeine per eight-ounce serving. To compare, it takes multiple cups of coffee to consume 100 to 300 milligrams of caffeine. Realize, too, the typical can includes 20 to 24 ounces and includes guarana, taurine, and sugar.

By the time a person has consumed 600 milligrams, he or she starts to experience jitters, heart palpitations, and panic attacks, which DMAA, a stimulant, exacerbates. In 2013, the FDA compared DMAA to an amphetamine.

Because of these factors, reports link energy drinks to multiple cardiovascular problems:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Death

Along with the caffeine risks, drinks frequently include high levels of folic acid, which studies associate with increased cancer risks.

Background & Risks

In December 2012, Consumer Reports studied common energy drinks, only to discovery some have 20 percent more caffeine than what’s listed on the label. A can, as a result, could contain anywhere from 6 to 242 milligrams, even when an amount isn’t specified.

In 2013, the Drug Abuse Warning Network pointed out the 10-fold increase of hospitalizations related to energy drinks, mostly from excessive caffeine consumption. Along with heart problems, issues included extreme dehydration and heat exhaustion.

That same year, a study analyzed calls to poison control centers. Researchers found that for every 1,500 calls, 51 percent concerned children under 6 years old consuming these beverages.

Around this time, watchdog groups, congressmen, and health officials requested the FDA revise its rules and regulations and investigate marketing practices. Even with the push, energy drink makers can classify their drinks as “beverages” or “dietary supplements.” For the former, the company doesn’t have to disclose caffeine amounts or if someone experienced an adverse side effect.

How does this differ? Beverages can only have ingredients “generally recognized as safe,” while supplements must include caffeine amounts, unless it’s part of a proprietary blend. Supplement manufacturers are further required to alert the FDA to any negative reports.

However, researchers have identified multiple reports for all major brands:

  • Red Bull – 21 reports
  • 5-Hour Energy – 92 reports
  • Monster – 40 reports
  • Rockstar – 13 reports

Reports encompass any condition from dizziness and fainting to vomiting, abnormal heart rate, and death.

More figures paint a dangerous picture. In July 2015, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that the FDA received 17 reports about energy drink-linked deaths from 2012 to 2014.

By September, a survey of high school students correlated serious head injuries with energy drink usage. Specifically, students who consumed at least five energy drinks per week were seven times more likely to experience a head injury.

Lawsuits

By 2012, Monster faced a wrongful death lawsuit, and a second was sent the following year. By 2015, Rockstar was served with a suit concerning a man who experienced a heart attack after drinking four cans in eight hours.

Individual cases and class action lawsuits allege these companies market their drinks like supplements, which in turn makes them seem safer than they actually are. Further, plaintiffs claim that, because of the added stimulants, these drinks are far more dangerous than an ordinary cup of coffee.