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Study Shows Energy Drink Consumption Can Cause Caffeine Intoxication

Jul 1, 2015

Energy drinks have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, with a proliferation of brands and flavors, but new research points to the danger of caffeine intoxication from energy drinks.

A study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reveals the danger of "caffeine intoxication" from energy drinks, the Richmond (Kentucky) Register reports. Roland Griffiths from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, one of the study's authors, said, "The caffeine content of energy drinks varies over a 10-fold range, with some containing the equivalent of 14 cans of Coca-Cola, yet the caffeine amounts are unlabeled and few include warnings about potential health risks of caffeine intoxication."

Caffeine intoxication is a clinical condition characterized by nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, tremors, rapid heartbeat, pacing, stomach upset, and diarrhea, the Register explains. In rare cases, death can result. Caffeine can make anxiety disorders worse and possibly cause irregular heartbeat in some people, Web MD cautions. It can raise blood pressure, worsen diarrhea, and may aggravate bleeding disorders. The authors of the study call for warning labels on energy drinks to inform consumers of potential risks.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the amount of caffeine permitted in food products. A regular 12-ounce soda contains about 35 milligrams of caffeine, well below the FDA limit of 71 milligrams. But energy drinks are considered dietary supplements and therefore are not subject to the caffeine limit. And, unlike over-the-counter caffeine-containing products, energy drinks are not required to carry warning labels, according to the Register. Many people consume the caffeine-laden drinks as they would soda, sometimes even at breakfast.

Much of the advertising for energy drinks is aimed at young people, promoting them as performance enhancers for sports and athletics. Some manufacturers have even labeled their powdered energy drinks as "cocaine" and "blow." Both companies received warnings from the FDA about misleading advertising, the Register reports. The danger of energy drinks is increased when they are mixed with alcohol. According to a recent survey, 27 percent of college students reported mixing an energy drink with alcohol at least once in the past month.


Dr. Steven Lipshultz, co-head of pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Michigan, and his colleagues tracked data from poison control centers about illnesses and symptoms associated with the consumption of energy drinks. They found 5,156 cases, with about 40 percent of the cases involving children younger than age 6. Young children are not aware of what ingredients the drinks contain. They consume energy drinks they find in the family's refrigerator or left around by parents or other family members. Amid growing concerns about the dangers of excess caffeine consumption among children and adolescents, last year, a group of doctors, researchers, and public health experts wrote to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg to urge the agency to take action on energy drinks. The letter asked the FDA to apply the same standards to energy drinks that apply to caffeinated sodas and to require manufacturers to include caffeine content on the label. Some states have considered bans on the sale of energy drinks to anyone under 17.

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