3 Reasons Why the FDA Needs to Start Testing Energy Drinks

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Energy drinks have become the most popular beverage category, and manufacturers have been leveraging that popularity, particularly with young people. Brands like Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar and 5-hour energy are making billions of dollars in profits, and even soft drink companies are cashing in, with Coca Cola holding a 16.7% stake in Monster Beverage Corporation.

Recent studies in medical journals such as Pediatrics, and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), have suggested that consuming too many energy drinks is to blame for health problems like high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, and even death. These studies also suggest that adolescents and teenagers are at particularly high risk for health problems from these drinks because high levels of caffeine and other stimulants can be more damaging to young bodies that are still developing.

Most energy drinks were once classified as dietary supplements, and existed outside the purview of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When energy drinks started coming under heavy scrutiny a few years ago, most of the manufacturers agreed to disclose the ingredients, and add nutritional labeling to inform consumers of the amounts of caffeine, sugar and other stimulants they contain. Despite this, and reports of injuries and deaths attributed to them, energy drinks are still extremely popular. Parents and even some members of the U.S. Congress are concerned enough to take action, and have urged the FDA to regulate energy drinks in order to keep them out of the hands of children and other people who might be harmed by them.

Here are three reasons why the FDA needs to take action and test energy drinks so the public can make more informed decisions about consuming them.

1. To Protect Young People From Health Dangers

To protect adolescents and teenagers, all energy drink manufacturers should cease marketing of energy drink products to children and teens under the age of 18 and sales of these products in K-12 school settings. Although Monster has stated it does not market to kids, a group of senators investigated and found evidence that the energy drink corporation was marketing to children as young as nine. 

Many school districts across the United States have banned sodas and other sugary soft drinks to deal with the obesity epidemic, but there are no such regulations in place for energy drinks. If the FDA steps in and publicizes the dangers, parents and teachers would take action to protect their children from the dangers of consuming these beverages.

2. To Standardize Energy Drink Labels

Energy drink manufacturers can currently choose whether to label their products as a beverage or liquid dietary supplements. Manufacturers that designate their energy drinks as beverages must comply with the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA) and label the drinks with conventional Nutrition Facts panels. Manufacturers of energy drinks designated as dietary supplements must comply with the labeling requirements of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, which are significantly more lax. Instead of the Nutrition Facts panels, these products are labeled with Supplement Facts panels, on which manufacturers can list ingredients that aren’t permitted on beverage labels under the NLEA. Thus, labeling is inconsistent across companies. The FDA needs to step in and make the call about how energy drinks should be labeled so consumers can clearly determine exactly what, and how much of it, they’re ingesting.

3. The Effects of Combined Contents Have Not Been Studied

The real danger of energy drinks is in the combination of caffeine, sugar and other substances. Many of these beverages contain high levels of herbal substances like guarana, ginseng, gingko biloba, taurine and other stimulants that are unproven and not regulated by the FDA. The synergistic effect of these substances has not been properly tested. One of the most common energy drink ingredients, taurine, has not been assessed or approved as a food additive for use in conventional foods by the FDA; it’s only considered GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) for flavor use by the Flavor and Extract Manufacturer’s Association.

The FDA needs to draft regulations about how much caffeine can be mixed with these substances, and thoroughly study the effects of the caffeine/herbal combinations to determine where exactly the dangers lie.