October 24, 2012
The Food and Drug Administration is investigating Monster Energy over reports that it was connected to five deaths over the past three years, including a 14-year-old girl who died of heart arrhythmia. Investors responded by dumping the company's stock, and it's safe to assume some parents are steering their kids away from energy drinks, whose high caffeine content is taken to be a mortal threat.
If so, then we have a lot more to worry about than energy drinks. A teen (or adult) who gives up her energy drink in favor of a cup of java may not be reducing her risk.
One of these cans contains 240 mg of caffeine. I work with a woman whose favorite indulgence at Starbucks is a grande coffee with two shots of espresso. A grande by itself has 330 mg of caffeine, and the two espresso shots yield another 150. In total, she's getting the same jolt as two Monsters.
Is that a good idea? Maybe not. Is it a threat to life? I doubt it, or we would have seen a big jump in heart attacks among young people since the spread of Starbucks and other specialty coffee shops. I note that the FDA is not investigating Starbucks.
The alleged connection with arrhythmia actually has been debunked. A 2005 analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which examined 48,000 participants in a Danish study, reported that contrary to common belief, "the incidence of atrial fibrillation was unrelated to caffeine intake."
The fact that someone dies of heart failure after drinking an energy drink doesn't mean the energy drink caused it -- anymore than the heart attack death of someone who ate an apple implicates apples. And truth is, five deaths in three years suggests any hazard is, at most, microscopic.
Caffeine is a ubiquitous substance with a long history of safe and satisfying human use. The FDA ought to have better things to investigate.
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