Are energy drinks safe?

The EU Scientific Committee on Food and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

EU Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) has issued a statement on the safety of energy drinks and their stimulant ingredients in 1999, and supplemented this statement in 2003.

According to SCF, the caffeine content of energy drinks is not so high that intake of caffeine as a result of moderate consumption of energy drinks would be detrimental to a healthy adult.

However, due to their caffeine content energy drinks are not recommended to children, because even a small amount of caffeine may cause agitation, irritability, tension and restlessness in children. Pregnant women are also advised to avoid abundant consumption of drinks that contain high levels of caffeine, such as coffee and energy drinks. In the opinion of SCF a daily intake of 300 mg is safe for pregnant women. Because of most recent research results, setting the safe limit at 200 mg has been considered.

European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) gave 15.2.2009 a scientific opinion on taurine and glucuronolactone, two common constituents in energy drinks. According to this opinion, the exposure to taurine and glucuronolactone from frequent intake of energy drinks is not a matter of concern as regards safety.

In their opinion, EFSA's committee stressed acute health concerns including accidents causing death that have been reported for young people that consume excessive amounts of energy drinks (for example a case of a person having drunk in excess of 1 420 ml has been reported) combined either with physical stress or as in most cases the use of alcohol. The committee also brought forward the conclusion that the analysis of cases reported particularly is complicated by the fact of most cases also including the consumption of alcohol and/or drugs along with energy drinks. For some recent reports, the committee considered possible that said health concerns might be due to known adverse effects from large intakes of caffeine. However, no scientific validation as to the cause-and-effect impact of consuming taurine is apparent.

By new data from research on humans, the committee considers it being improbable that taurine and caffeine carry a combined impact on the fluid and sodium losses of the body. The committee also unanimously accepts the conclusion that glucuronolactone probably has no combined impact with the effects of caffeine, taurine, alcohol or physical stress. Recommended though is that energy drinks not be used in combination with excessive use of alcohol or as drinks to quench thirst.

Warnings and caffeine content labeling on energy drinks

The Finnish Food Safety Authority has stipulated that the labeling of energy drinks shall contain a warning stating that the product is not suited to children, pregnant women or persons sensitive to caffeine. The labeling shall also indicate the recommended daily intake, usually a few cans a day, or a warning about the detrimental effects of excessive intake.

By virtue of Decree 1084/2004 of the Ministry of Trade and Industry caffeine used in food as an aromatic substance shall be indicated under its own name in connection with the name of the product or in the list of ingredients, after the word ”aroma”.

The Decree also stipulates that the labeling of any drink with a caffeine content of more than 150 mg/l in consumption-ready form shall contain the indication ”high caffeine content ( ml)”. The indication shall be shown in connection with the name of the drink. However, this indication is not required of coffee and tea-based drinks or drinks made of coffee or tea extracts, which show the word ”coffee” or ”tea” in their name.