Energy drinks - are they safe?

In just the past couple of months, reports on deaths and emergency room visits some think were caused by energy drinks have many people thinking twice before grabbing one or two at the store to get through the day. In fact, a report released in January shows that the number of ER visits has more than doubled.

From 2007 to 2011, the government estimates the number of emergency room visits involving the neon-labeled beverages shot up from about 10,000 to more than 20,000. This is according to a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And most of those cases involved teens or young adults. One company, Monster Beverage Company, is being investigated by the FDA after a 14-year-old girl died of a heart attack in 2011 after drinking just two cans of its popular energy drink. Monster cans contain 240-milligrams of caffeine â?? thatâ??s seven times the amount of the caffeine in a 12-ounce cola. However, a coroner also said she had a pre-existing heart condition, and Monster Beverage Company says it does not believe its product was â??in any way responsible for the girlâ??s death.â??

The FDA does not regulate caffeine in energy drinks, which can be marketed as dietary supplements. Soft drinks, on the other hand, are regulated and can have no more than 71.5 milligrams of caffeine in a 12-ounce serving.

So, because they donâ??t know how much caffeine is in energy drinks, consumers may be at risk for caffeine toxicity. According to Dr. Jay Nielsen of Wellness RX in Perrysburg, some symptoms of caffeine toxicity can include â??palpitation, headache, fatigue, sleeplessness, diarrhea, tremor, and neck pain.â?? Increased thirst, hallucinations, convulsions, and sometimes even unconsciousness can be experienced.

Soon after the Monster claims began, makers of 5-Hour Energy were blamed for even more deaths. 13, to be exact. Consumer Reports says 5-hour Energy has 212 milligrams of caffeine. The FDA states that although â??adverse eventsâ?? have been reported, there isnâ??t a clear case of cause-and-effect between the drink and the deaths. Thus, the FDA is investigating the drink because it is the law. The distributor of 5-hour Energy, Living Essentials LLC, said in a statement: â??We recommend on product labels and the 5-hour Energy website that individuals consume no more than two bottles of 5-hour Energy shots per day, spaced several hours apart. Consumers who have caffeine sensitivities should consult with a physician before taking and can consider the â??decafâ?? version."

And some consumers agree, saying itâ??s up to an individual to regulate their caffeine intake, not the drink maker. But others have reconsidered where they get their energy each day.

Just yesterday, I received more thoughts on this from Emergency Medicine Physician at ProMedica Toledo Hospital, Dr. Justin Bright. He says the 20,000 ER visits annually number needs to be put in a national context. 20,000 is not a very large number nationally. As a basis for comparison, ProMedica Toledo Hospital sees approximately 95,000 patients annually.

However, Dr. Bright also said that he thinks energy drinks in general are definitely a problem. They can be purchased virtually anywhere and there are no age restrictions on who can buy it. That accessibility leads people to believe they are healthy and safe, even though they are not FDA regulated. The FDA says they are currently conducting a review.

What do you think? Should the FDA regulate caffeine in energy drinks, or is it up to the consumer to regulate their caffeine intake?