Consumer Reports: Energy drink labels have shaky caffeine counts

The energy drink you’re chugging may not have the caffeine levels you think it does, according to a recent test by Consumer Reports.

Many of the 27 products investigated by the testing group did not disclose caffeine counts – data that is not required by law, according to the magazine’s December issue.

But measurements from Consumer Reports showed a wide range, from 6 milligrams per serving in 5-Hour Energy Decaf to 242 milligrams per serving of 5-Hour Energy Extra Strength.

An average 8-ounce cup of coffee has 100 milligrams. A single serving of basic Red Bull has 83 milligrams; Monster has 92 milligrams.

Research suggests that healthy adults can consume up to 400 milligrams a day, while pregnant women should limit themselves to 200 milligrams and children to between 45 and 85 milligrams.

Consumer Reports found that of the 16 products that included caffeine levels on labels, five overshot the listed amount by more than 20%. Another sample had 70% less caffeine than was advertised on the container.

Many energy drinks were showcased in stores near the soda and juice sections and occasionally at the checkout aisles, but rarely near alcohol, according to the study.

The test results came as federal health officials probe recent reports that, since 2009, five people have died from consuming Monster Beverage Corp.’s energy drinks. The Corona company said it is “unaware of any fatality anywhere that has been caused by its drinks.”

The Consumer Reports study and Monster investigation were cited in a letter from two U.S. senators asking the Food and Drug Administration to address regulatory loopholes and possible health risks related to energy drinks.

On Friday, Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent the letter – their third – calling on the agency to look into the industry and its effect on children and teens. The lawmakers also requested more scrutiny of ingredients such as guarana, taurine and ginseng, which are often used in energy drinks.

The letter also sought better guidelines on energy drink classifications, claiming that companies often categorize the products as dietary supplements to skirt regulatory oversight but then market the items as beverages.

Even as caffeine-pumped products such as the AeroShot Energy inhaler spark health concerns, energy drink sales are booming. Last year, they soared nearly 17%, according to industry publication Beverage Digest.

In 2010, Four Loko took caffeine, guarana and taurine out of its alcoholic beverages, reformulating the products "after trying - unsuccessfully - to navigate a difficult and politically-charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels," said maker Phusion Projects in a statement.


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