Apparently Red Bull may not give you wings, at least not bigger wings than those given by a cup of coffee. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is giving energy drink claims a closer look after "reports of deaths and serious injuries that may be linked to their high caffeine levels."
But interviews with researchers and scientific studies show that most energy drinks have little benefit (if any) for the consumer. Energy drinks that cost upwards of $3 a can contain the same amount of coffee as that 12-ounce cup from Starbucks for $1.50 (or the stuff you brew at home for pennies on the dollar).
"These are caffeine delivery systems," Roland Griffiths, a researcher at John Hopkins University who has studied energy drinks, told the Times on Wednesday. "They don't want to say this is the equivalent to a NoDoz because that is not a very sexy sales message."
In a comparison between 5-hour Energy, Monster Energy, Red Bull and Rockstar Energy there were only minor differences between the four. In fact, Monster Energy, Red Bull and Rockstar all contained 160 micrograms of caffeine (per 16-ounce containing two servings).
Adding copious quantities of nutrients has become another trend, not a necessarily beneficial one either. A two-ounce bottle of 5-hour Energy contains "500 micrograms of Vitamin B12, or 8,333 percent of the of the recommended daily allowance."
"They are not going to increase energy levels," Paul Thomas, scientific adviser with the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, told the Times.
In a letter from the FDA to Senator Richard Durbin, the agency noted that energy drinks are a relatively new line of products with relatively unknown risks. Currently the FDA is reviewing the risks of energy drinks to young people and those with pre-existing cardiac conditions.
"Areas of particular focus would be such matters as the vulnerability of certain populations to stimulants and the incidence and consequences of excessive consumption of 'energy drinks,' especially by young people," said Michele Mital, Acting Associate Commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration.