Investigating the effects of energy drinks

Parents accuse popular energy beverage brands of being linked to deaths in the United States and Canada

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating an alleged link between Monster Energy drinks and five deaths and one non-fatal heart attack dating back to 2004.

At Queen’s, Monster Energy drinks as well as competing brands NOS and Full Throttle are available for purchase around campus.

The investigation was reported last week following a Maryland couple’s lawsuit against Monster Beverage Corp. Their 14-year-old daughter died of cardiac arrythmia resulting from caffeine toxicity after consuming two 24-ounce Monster Energy drinks within 24 hours.

Monster subsequently issued a statement supporting the safety of their products.

Although teenagers make up a large percentage of energy drink consumers, university-aged students are also frequent consumers of the beverages.

A 2007 study by Mintel International Group reported that 34 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds regularly consume energy drinks, compared to 31 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds and 22 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds.

For energy drink fan Harrison Radersma, Sci ’14, the decision to consume the beverages should be assessed on an individual basis.

“Whatever things kids do to get good grades these days, energy drinks are just another one,” he said.

But for Scarborough-area man Jim Shepherd, the issue is personal.

In 2008, Shepherd’s 15-year-old son Brian died at a paintball tournament hours after witnesses reported seeing him drinking samples handed out by representatives of Red Bull, Shepherd said.

Shepherd acknowledged that university students, many of whom are still teenagers, are among the largest consumers of energy drinks in North America.

An autopsy ruled Brian’s death as Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome and caffeine was the only drug in his system at the time of his passing. Brian had no pre-existing heart conditions and Shepherd said the cause of the arrhythmia was never determined.

“I strongly suspect that the consumption of that energy drink was contributory in my son’s death, if not the whole cause,” he said. He’s filed a number of complaints with Health Canada, and in 2011 they officially classified caffeinated energy drinks as food (rather than natural heath products).

They consequently advocated that the drinks carry labels that identify the amount of caffeine they contain and include warnings about children and pregnant/breastfeeding women consuming the drinks and about mixing them with alcohol.

Currently, companies can only market beverages with a caffeine limit of 400 mg per litre for non-resealable drinks.

Health Canada advises a maximum caffeine intake of 400 mg per day for adults and older/heavier adolescents.

The original 16-ounce Monster Energy drink contains 160 mg of caffeine, compared to 100 mg in a medium (14 ounce) Tim Hortons coffee, 330 mg in a grande (16 ounce) Starbucks coffee and 200 mg in an average caffeine pill.

FDA spokesperson Shelly Burgess told the Journal that the FDA investigates any reports of death, and that the current investigation is “open and ongoing.”

Burgess said there’s currently no proven link between the deaths and the energy drinks, and that the reports merely “serve as a signal to the FDA that there might be a potential problem.”

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