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FDA investigating energy drinks after deaths, paper reports

Thirteen deaths over the past four years have been linked to the popular caffeinated drink 5-Hour Energy, according to the FDA. The company that distributes the drink says its product is safe when used as directed. TODAY's Natalie Morales reports.

Federal officials are looking into reports of 13 deaths possibly connected to 5-Hour Energy, a liquid “shot” that contains caffeine and other compounds, the New York Times reported on Thursday. But the reports, which track cases since 2009, don’t show how the drinks could have caused the deaths and there’s no evidence the products are harmful.

The Food and Drug Administration, however, is investigating energy drinks, especially those containing caffeine. The agency is under extra pressure after the parents of a 14-year-old Maryland girl sued the company that makes Monster Energy Drink last month, saying caffeine in the drinks killed her. The autopsy report attributed her death to “cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity.”  

The FDA receives the reports under its adverse events reporting system. This system doesn’t necessarily show that a food or drug caused a problem. People can file an adverse event report if, for instance, someone has a heart attack after taking a drug or getting a vaccination. The two events could be coincidental, and often are.

5-Hour Energy contains about 207 milligrams of caffeine, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, about the amount in two 8-ounce cups of coffee. It also contains vitamins and amino acids, such as taurine. Commonly reported side effects from energy drinks include insomnia, headache and rapid heart beat.

5-Hour Energy

5-Hour Energy contains about 215 milligrams of caffeine, about the amount in two 8-ounce cups of coffee.

Since 2009, 5-Hour Energy has been mentioned in about 90 reports sent to FDA, the New York Times reports. Anyone can send an adverse event report to the FDA, and in 2010, more than 670,000 such reports were filed, the agency’s website shows.  

The FDA has classified caffeine as “generally recognized as safe”, meaning it doesn’t require any more review for approval. Medical research suggests it takes as much as 10,000 mg of caffeine to kill a person, although there is not a lot of study on the subject.

In response to an FDA report investigating a link between a popular energy drink and five recent deaths, Consumer Reports launched its own investigation, and found that some of the drinks actually had 20 percent more caffeine than listed, and many of the products don't list levels at all. NBC's Tom Costello reports.

 

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