This week, the Food and Drug Administration announced an investigation into the deaths of five teenagers and the possible link to energy drinks. That includes the death of a 14-year-old Maryland girl last December who died from a cardiac arrhythmia after drinking too many large cans of an energy drink in a 24-hour period.
Right now, energy drinks are freely sold on store shelves, but are they safe for you or your teen?
they have catchy names like Monster, Red Bull, and Rockstar. While energy drinks are nothing new, they are becoming more popular among teens looking for a little boost.
"I like chugged an Amp in like two seconds and I had like a crazy amount of energy for the rest of the night." Said Will Stubblefield
Stubblefield says he started drinking energy drinks regularly about 2 years ago. He even mixed different brands to get the energy faster. Stubblefield admits it was a habit, one that he broke after an experience with a 5-Hour Energy.
"I chugged it in two seconds and then after I was getting like stomach cramps then I had some saltine crackers and then my heart rate just like sped up to at least 200." Said Stubblefield.
Stubblefield's symptoms were not uncommon and were likely caused by a caffeine overdose. Doctor Shari Eich at the Avera McGreevy Clinic say he's lucky he didn't suffer worse.
"It can cause things like anxiety, cause their heart to race, cause arrhythmias, it can cause seizures there have been even reports of death because of too much of these energy drinks." Said Dr. Eich.
The FDA is currently investigating five deaths and a non fatal heart attack linked to the toxic dose of caffeine these drinks can provide. While these instances are rare and a link is still unproven, a recent study shows energy drink induced ER visits are spiking across the country.
In 2005, there were just over a thousand documented cases of caffeine overdose, that number climbed to more than 16,000 in 2008, then dropped slightly in 2009.
To give you a better idea of how much caffeine are in these drinks, a 12 ounce Red Bull contains almost three times the amount of caffeine as a 12 ounce coke. That's an adult serving size not a teen's, for an adult drinking more than two triple shot Rockstars or Monsters in a 24 hour period would be considered a toxic amount of caffeine.
while these drinks continue to give teens a caffeine buzz, doctors question how much they should be drinking, or if they should be drinking them at all.
Dr. Tarek Mahrous is a cardiologist at the North Central Heart Institute in Sioux Falls. He says caffeine as a stimulant can put quite a strain on the heart, but there's still plenty left to be determined.
"Specifically with the heart I don't think we know enough about the energy drinks to say that they're entirely safe but the same time and I can't say that they're unsafe we just don't have enough information." Said Dr. Mahrous.
To cover their bases from a medical standpoint, some energy drinks put a subtle warning on the label.
"Not recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women or those sensitive to caffeine, that's reassuring isn't it?" Said Dr. Eich.
Under current FDA rules, energy drinks don't have to reveal the amount of caffeine in them because they're considered dietary supplements, not beverages.
"Most of the time the labeling on the cans or the bottles don't tell you how much caffeine is actually in them. Plus they add other ingredients that can mimic the effects of caffeine or exacerbate the effects of caffeine." Said Dr. Eich.
Energy drinks, in their ad campaigns, market hard to teens and young adults. Red Bull for example, praises itself for helping you focus and perform better, their target is young athletes.
Luke Kovaleski is a pitcher for Sioux Falls Roosevelt and says he has a Red Bull every time he takes the mound.
LK: I just drink it when I need some energy.
JI: Would you say your addicted?
LK: no, I don't need to have one every day or drink them all the time I only drink the before baseball games.
But athletes like Luke, who rely simply on energy drinks, could be doing more harm to their bodies.
"The other problem with caffeine is it is a diuretic which means that you going to draw the water out of the body well a you're already exercising a lot you're going to lose more water and then exacerbate that with too much caffeine." Said Dr. Eich.
Meaning Luke could be firing on all cylinders to start the game, but by the 7-inning stretch, he's the one who's struck out.
Will Stubblefield stopped using energy drinks after his episode with the 5-Hour Energy. He still has the occasional Mountain Dew, but says he's much more aware of his caffeine intake.
"If you don't know your limits if you don't know, if you overdo it then you're definitely, its definitely dangerous for you." Said Stubblefield.
No mistake about it, caffeine is a drug. Like a drug, everyone's tolerance and reaction is going to be different. Now in most cases, drinking a Red Bull or Rockstar is probably going to be harmless, but doctors are still wary.
Dr. Mahrous: think we just don't know enough about it at this point to give any specific recommendations other than you just got to be careful and use your common sense.
JI: would you recommend them for your kids?
Dr. Mahrous: I wouldn't have them drink it regularly. In fact I would say don't drink it at all until we know more about it at this point.
So as a parent you'll have to ask yourself, is it a risk I'm willing to let my teen take?
The mother of the Maryland girl who died in December is currently suing Monster Energy. After news of the lawsuit, shares of Monster Energy have dropped more than 25 percent since Monday. Our calls to Monster Energy and Red Bull have not been returned.
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