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Leading Energy Drink Makers Under Investigation for Misleading Consumers

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By Dr. Mercola

They’re marketed as the fast and easy way to get unparalleled energy.

Simply throw back a can of AMP Energy Drink, 5-Hour Energy or any of the other popular energy drinks on the market and instantly “give a swift kickstart to yourself” that allows you to “tackle the early morning meeting” and “your kid’s after-school recital,” or help “you recapture the bright, alert feeling you need to power through your day.”

But are these concoctions of caffeine, B vitamins and other ingredients like taurine really all they’re cracked up to be?

The New York Attorney General has their suspicions, and as such has launched an investigation into energy drink manufacturers’ marketing and advertising practices.

Are Inaccurate Energy Drink Labels Misleading Consumers?

The New York investigation is in its early stages, but so far the attorney general has issued subpoenas to PepsiCo, maker of AMP energy drink, Monster Beverage Corp., and Living Essentials, maker of 5-hour Energy drink, asking for information on their marketing and advertising practices.

The probe is looking into whether the companies are overstating benefits from certain healthful-sounding ingredients while downplaying the role of caffeine. Another issue is whether manufacturers are adding multiple sources of caffeine, such as guarana, but not disclosing the full amount on the label. If found to be in violation of state laws, the companies could face fines and penalties, and be forced to change their labeling and marketing practices.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) typically regulates food and drinks, but state attorney generals can investigate and regulate products sold within their state boundaries. Washington State, for instance, contemplatedbanning alcoholic energy drinks in 2010 after multiple college students were hospitalized after consuming the beverages at a party.

The Food and Safety Standards Authority of India earlier this summer already decided energy drink labels were misleading, and that warnings should be put on the labels regarding children, pregnant or lactating women and anyone sensitive to caffeine. Last year the Canadian Health Minister also tried to get energy drinks labeled as drugs, but settled for reclassifying them as food products.

After Tragic Death, FDA Called on to Regulate Energy Drinks

The FDA does not define the term “energy drink” by regulation, and, according to the Wall Street Journal, the drinks are actually more loosely regulated than traditional sodas, despite their higher content of caffeine and addition of other ingredients.1

In December 2011, a 14-year-old girl suffered a fatal cardiac arrhythmia linked to caffeine toxicity after drinking two 24-ounce energy drinks in a 24-hour period. The girl’s mother as well as Senator Dick Durbin have since called on the FDA to regulate the caffeine content in the drinks. In a letter to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, Durbin stated:2

“ … 30 to 50 percent of adolescents report consuming energy drinks. However, a recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that energy drinks pose potentially serious health risks. The report found that between 2005 – 2009, the number of emergency room (ER) visits due to energy drinks increased ten-fold from 1,128 to 13,114 visits.

A major factor contributing to these hospitalizations is the exceptionally high levels of caffeine in energy drinks. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, adolescents should not consume more than 100mg of caffeine daily. One 16oz can of Monster contains 160mg of caffeine, which is equivalent to almost 5 cans of soda. However, this caffeine level does not account for caffeine from additives, like guarana, or ingredients with stimulating properties, like taurine and ginseng.

Consuming large quantities of caffeine can have serious health consequences, including caffeine toxicity, stroke, anxiety, arrhythmia, and in some cases death. Young people are especially susceptible to suffering adverse effects because energy drinks market to youth, their bodies are not accustomed to caffeine, and energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine and stimulating additives that may interact when used in combination.”

Originally, athletes were the target market for energy drink makers, but that soon expanded to target teenagers and young adults. Now, the majority are marketed at 18- to 34-year-olds (although younger teens often drink them as well), and the marketing is working – despite reports of serious adverse effects linked to their consumption (the risks are especially severe in children, adolescents, and young adults with seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, or mood and behavioral disorders or those who take certain medications3).

The U.S. energy drink market is expected to reach nearly $20 billion in 2013, which is close to a 160 percent increase from 2008. Among the functional beverage category, the energy drink segment has experienced the largest volume growth and increased annual sales, both in the United States and abroad.4

There are Better Ways to Get Lasting Energy

Caffeine is also the most commonly used drug in the world for a good reason, as many seem to love to have a quick fix for energy that their typically bad health lifestyle is failing to provide them with. The allure of energy drinks is clear, especially in an era where our work hours are ever-expanding into our home lives, and we’re trying to “do it all,” all the time.  

But whether or not energy drink makers are indeed found to be violating marketing and advertising laws, you are seriously misleading yourself if you think an energy drink is the solution to getting your energy back.

There are the risks from over-consuming caffeine, of course (and other risks, like the fact that drinking energy drinks has been compared to “bathing” teeth in acid because of their impact on your tooth enamel5), but above and beyond is the plain and simple fact that this is artificial energy (often with other questionable artificial ingredients added, too).

As soon as the boost from the caffeine wears off, you’ll likely be more depleted than before you imbibed and you’ll be looking for another fix. And wouldn’t you rather just wake up fresh, ready to go, with the energy and enthusiasm for your day that perhaps you haven’t felt since you were a teenager? (And if you are a teenager, and you’re lacking energy already, the following applies to you, too – you don’t need energy drinks to stay focused and alert, or to excel at sports!).

You simply were never meant to be sluggish or constantly tired -- especially as a teenager or in the prime of your life! 
The lack of energy and fatigue state is much more likely a result of certain lifestyle choices, such as not enough healthy food, processed foods and sugar, and not enough exercise and sleep, plus an overload of stress. Increasing your energy levels, then, is as easy as remedying these factors by:

  • Eating a healthy diet with limited sugar, fructose and processed foods. See my nutrition plan for a naturally energy-enhancing diet. Remember this is the NEW nutrition plan that has been radically revised for your benefit.
  • Increasing your intake of animal-based omega-3 fats to support your energy levels
  • Release draining emotional stress and negativity with the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
  • Sleep when you’re tired, and make sure you’re getting high-quality sleep while you’re at it
  • Exercise, and be sure to include high-intensity interval exercises like Peak Fitness for near endless energy
  • If you need a supplement, do the above steps first and then try ones that are designed to increase your level of foundational energy at the mitochondrial level. Some of the best are vitamin B 12, Ubiquinol and magnesium.

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