TODAY | March 21, 2012
>>> with an issue of growing concern for medical professionals and some parents. high energy drinks have become very popular among teenagers and young adults in recent years as a quick way to get a caffeine jolt. but could they also pose a serious risk? nbc 's tom costello has more on that. tom, good morning.
>> hi, matt. the jolt comes from the caffeine, which, of course, is a stimulant. the fda regulates how much caffeine is allowed in soda, but it doesn't regulate the caffeine in energy drinks because they're considered a dietary supplement , rather than a food. it appears it was all too much for a 14-year-old who drank two of these in less than 24 hours . no one who knew her ever thought this is where 14-year-old anais fournier would be today. the victim of too much caffeine?
>> i lost my girlfriend who i cared about with all my heart.
>> reporter: at the cemetery in hagerstown, maryland, her boyfriend ethan comes nearly every day.
>> she was just beautiful. in personality, in mind, in just physical features she was amazing.
>> reporter: it was last september when anais suddenly went into cardiac arrest while at home. paramedics, then doctors, worked for a week to save her as she slipped into a coma. her family at her bedside.
>> we stayed up all night. i laid in bed next to her all night long and we talked to her. and stayed with her.
>> reporter: six days later, anais died, leaving behind a twin brother and sister. the official cause of death , cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity. anais and her family knew she had a common heart defect known as a microvalve prolapse but her doctor felt it posed little risk to her life. in the 23 hours before she went into cardiac arrest , anais had consumed two, 24-ounce high caffeine monster energy drinks. each monster can contained 240 milligrams of caffeine. enough for three servings. and two cans is equal to 14, 12-ounce sodas. that's 480 milligrams of caffeine. nearly five times what's recommended in a recent pediatric study for teens and younger. monster tells nbc news, we vehemently deny that drinking two cans of monster energy by itself can cause a death from caffeine toxicity. and monster insists its drinks contain less caffeine than some coffee. dr. allen taylor is the chief of cardiology at georgetown university hospital .
>> between the caffeine, the sugar, its effects on blood pressure, potential adverse effects , i think it's really difficult to justify a case for children, young adults , to be using these substances right now.
>> reporter: and e.r.s across the country have seen a dramatic increase in caffeine overdoses. from 1100 e.r. visits in 2005 linked to high energy drinks, to 16,000 in 2008 , and more than 13,000 in 2009 . high energy drinks have become big business , marketed to teens with names like monster, full throttle and rock star . clearly this food is designed for a particular audience.
>> yes. high schoolers, college students.
>> reporter: university of maryland researcher amelia aria has studied the effects of the drinks on teens and young adults .
>> individuals don't really know how much caffeine they're consuming because the label does not require disclosure of caffeine content. that's part of the problem.
>> reporter: despite years of studies calling for the fda to regulate the drinks, that hasn't happened. the american beverage association tells nbc news it has adopted voluntary policies for change to energy drink labels and marketing to children. some offer warnings, some don't. but doctors have their own warning.
>> is your child the one who has a predisposing condition where these could be truly dangerous? is this worth the call to the emergency room ?
>> reporter: for anais ' mom there is only heartbreak.
>> she never, ever regained consciousness. and we never got to tell her good-bye.
>> reporter: while the fda doesn't regulate the drinks, virginia has banned their use by high school athletes, australia already regulates them, and canada is about to implement some of the tightest restrictions in the world. meanwhile, as a result of anais ' organ donation , two people regained their sight with her eyes, a man was saved with her liver and left kidney and another woman was saved with her right kidney and pancreas. so this 14-year-old girl helped a lot of people. matt, back to you.
>> tom costello. thank you very