You may have heard that Monster energy drinks are under FDA investigation after being cited in five deaths and one heart attack. There’s also a wrongful death lawsuit against Monster, filed by the parents of 14-year-old Anais Fournier, who died due to caffeine toxicity.
Yet as more details about these deaths comes out, it seems less clear exactly where fault lies — and how dangerous (or not) these drinks are. One 24-ounce can of Monster contains 240 milligrams of caffeine, about the same as one to two 8-ounce cups of coffee – and significantly less than a venti at Starbucks, which comes in around 415 milligrams.
Death caused by caffeine is very rare. According to the Washington Post, only a handful of cases appear in scientific literature. For most adults, a lethal dose of caffeine is about 5 grams (that would be somewhere in the vicinity of 20 24-ounce cans of Monster or 25 to 55 cups of regular coffee). For children, the elderly and people with certain conditions — heart problems, obesity, diabetes — the limits may be lower. But determining these is highly individualized, according to cardioelectrophysiologist Jeff Goldberger. It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint consistent disease factors that link large doses of caffeine to heart arrhythmia, he said.
In the lawsuit against Monster, Fournier’s parents allege she died after drinking two 24-ounce Monster energy drinks in a 24 hour period, which brought about caffeine toxicity and cardiac arrhythmia. An autopsy also concluded that she had an inherited heart condition that weakens blood vessels. Her parent’s say Monster failed to properly warn about the risks its drinks carried. But exactly what kind of warning would have sufficed in this situation?
Monster already states its caffeine content on the can — along with warnings that the drinks aren’t recommended for kids or people with caffeine sensitivity. It’s popular in situations like these to call for more FDA regulation, but to me, this doesn’t seem like a case where inadequate regulation or labeling is a culprit. It seems like a very unfortunate case where a girl had extreme caffeine sensitivity and didn’t know it.
It may sound crass, but had this not happened now, and her heart condition remained unknown, it could easily have happened at some later time with a few cups of coffee, a large Red Bull, too much Mountain Dew. It could have happened with Monster energy drinks newly-labeled to scream their caffeine content. While there are some valid concerns when it comes to energy drinks or supplements and labeling – false claims about mystical ingredients, no requirement to actually disclose ingredients at all – singling out Monster, or singling out caffeine, seems like the wrong tactic here, in regard to actually making a difference in consumer safety.
FYI: The best way to consume energy drinks safely is to …
- Avoid those that don’t list ingredients or contain mysterious proprietary ingredients
- Pay attention to serving size — one can may contain two or three servings.
- Avoid mixing with alcohol or certain prescription drugs.
- Do your homework. You can check out the caffeine content of almost any energy drink on Energy Fiend (as well as how much sugar is in them, which is where things really get scary).
- Know the warning signs of caffeine toxicity. ”Part of the reason it is easy to avoid death by caffeine is that the symptoms that come with the early stages of caffeine toxicity — lightheadedness, nausea and headache — are quite unpleasant,” Sarah Kerrigan, a forensic toxicologist, told the Washington Post.