Houston Scientist Joins Call For More Research And Regulation Of Caffeinated 'Energy Drinks'

The Institute of Medicine held a conference this week on the health hazards of caffeinated energy drinks – and food products with added caffeine. 

 

The consumption of drinks like Red Bull and Monster Energy has exploded in just the past few years.

Along with that, there have been reports of heart attacks and even deaths associated with the products.

Dr. John Higgins is a sports cardiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center.

He says research presented at the conference reveals that overdoses from the drinks are happening globally, and teenagers seem especially vulnerable.

“They’re often served cold, they’re easy to drink down, they’re sweet, they give them some energy but the difference is they have a lot more caffeine in them on average than sodas. And the reason they’re able to do that is because they’re most of the time classified as a food supplement.”

One regulatory solution would be for the Food and Drug Administration to classify energy drinks not as food supplements, but as beverages.

The drinks would then be subject to caffeine limits and other oversight.

Higgins favors another solution, too — restricting the sale of the drinks to adults, much like cigarettes are.

“I don’t think that that person is the same as someone who is younger, smaller and not as used to having caffeine in their system.”

Higgins was struck by new research presented at the conference, a study of college students.

It found that students who were heavy consumers of energy drinks were more likely to abuse prescription drugs later on — although the study did not establish cause and effect.

“You know is it possible that they’re creating that sort of addictive tendency in people? That was kind of scary to hear some of that information.”

Higgins says the conference indicates the FDA is taking the risks of caffeinated products seriously.

At the very least, he hopes the conference will lead to the creation of a national data registry to track problems associated with the drinks.

That would help scientists define who’s most at risk.

Back in Houston, Higgins is focusing his research on how caffeinated energy drinks affect the blood vessels, especially during exercise. 

Here's the FDA Statement on Its Investigation of Added Caffeine

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...