By TODAY staff and Reuters
In the wake of reports this week that five may have died after consuming Monster Energy drinks, Consumer Reports released Thursday its own investigation into the real caffeine levels in energy drinks.
Consumer Reports tested 27 products and found that five of the cans that list caffeine actually have levels at least 20 percent higher than what the label reports. Eleven of the products tested, including Monster, don't specify the caffeine levels. Since the beverages are considered a dietary supplement, it's not required.
"It's important for people to understand what they're buying and drinking, and if that information is not even available on the product, that's a problem," Gayle Williams, Consumer Reports deputy health editor, told TODAY.
Anais Fournier, 14, died of cardiac arrest in December after consuming two Monster Energy drinks in less than 24 hours, roughly 480 milligrams of caffeine. Her cause of death was listed as "cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity." The family of the teen, who had a heart defect, is suing Monster.
While the Food and Drug Administration confirmed this week that Fournier's death is one of the five that could be linked to drinking Monster Energy drinks, the beverage maker points out that its drink contains 240 milligrams of caffeine for a 24-ounce can, less than is in many popular coffee drinks. For example, a 16-ounce cup of Starbucks brewed coffee has 330 milligrams of caffeine.
Caffeine levels in the drinks tested ranged from about 6 milligrams per serving for 5-Hour Energy Decaf, made by Living Essentials, to 242 milligrams for 5-Hour Energy Extra Strength, the report found.
The drinks that Consumer Reports found that contained more caffeine than was listed on their labels included Arizona Energy, Clif Shot Turbo Energy Gel and Sambazon Organic Amazon Energy, as well as Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc's Venom Energy and Nestle Jamba, sold by a partnership of Nestle and Jamba Inc.
One sample of its Archer Farms Energy Drink Juice Infused beverage had about 70 percent less caffeine than advertised, the report found. Archer Farms is the private label of retailer Target Corp.
Greg Fleishman, Sambazon’s chief marketing officer, disputes Consumer Report’s finding. “The Consumer Reports study stated that our product was found to have 81 mg of caffeine per 8 ounces, but the correct amount is 53 mg of organic caffeine per 8 ounces. This has been tested and verified by a third-party lab,” he wrote in a statement to TODAY.com. Sambazon has reached out to Consumer Reports requesting a correction.
The other companies did not immediately respond to Reuters with a comment.
Dr. Allen Taylor, the chief of cardiology at Georgetown University Hospital, says caffeine overdose is a real issue.
"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," he said.
Emergency rooms visited tied to energy drinks have risen in recent years, from 1,128 visits in 2005 to 16,053 in 2008 and 13,144 in 2009, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
For more on the drinks Consumer Reports tested and which had higher levels of caffeine, go to Consumer Reports.org.
Reuters contributed to this report.