The NY Times was the first to break the story, reporting that 5-Hour Energy is cited in at least 90 FDA incident reports, including more than 30 trips to the hospital for things like convulsions, heart attacks, and one case of a spontaneous abortion.
Though the drink’s mention in an incident report is not a definite indicator that it had anything to do with the problem — it could just be a coincidence or the result of mixing the drink with another item — the Attorney General for the state of New York tells Good Morning America that his office is investigating the claims.
The FDA says it is looking into the death reports, all of which were actually submitted to the agency by Living Essentials, the company that distributes 5-Hour Energy. Per FDA regulations, companies that market dietary supplements must alert the agency any time they learn of a death or serious injury that could be related to their product.
In a statement, Living Essentials maintains that its drink has about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. A recent study by Consumer Reports pegged the 5-Hour Energy caffeine content at around 215 mg, which would be in line with the top end for an 8 oz. cup of brewed coffee, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The issue with energy “shots” like 5-Hour is that they are only 2 oz. in size, making it incredibly easy for customers to consume multiple shots in a short period of time.
And though Living Essentials contends that it does not market the product as something to be mixed with alcohol and that it advises customers to consume no more than two shots in a 24-hour period, most of us know that some people are both combining 5-Hour with booze and drinking more than two or three of these shots in a short period of time.
As many have pointed out, the same could be said about any number of beverages — alcoholic and non-alcoholic — so why the sudden focus on energy drinks?
It’s partly because they are an incredibly fast-growing segment of the beverage market, so there are going to be growing pains as consumers learn how to handle energy drinks properly and how companies should market them.
It’s also because there is a schism in the market between products like Red Bull, which is advertised primarily as a beverage, while 5-Hour Energy and its ilk market their products as dietary supplements.
The FDA currently has guidelines for caffeine in soda, but the dietary supplement loophole allows makers of those energy drinks to get around the guidelines.
Should they all fall under one group or are they truly two separate kinds of products that require two separate sets of guidelines?
While these things are being decided, just remember that energy drinks — like most other things in life — are best consumed in moderation. That may sound like your stodgy uncle trying to give you advice, but it’s true.