One hundred scientists and physicians have written a letter to the Food and Drug Administration asking for more regulation of increasingly popular energy drinks because their high caffeine content puts young drinkers at possible risk for caffeine intoxication and higher rates of alcohol-related injuries.


The letter was written by Roland Griffiths, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. It asked the FDA to require the drinks' caffeine content be listed on the can, to set a limit on the amount of stimulant allowed in the drinks and to require warning labels.


The U.S. market for the drinks is estimated at $5.4 billion in 2006, according to Packaged Facts, growing at an annual rate of 55% per year.


The United States is the world's largest consumer by volume of energy drinks, roughly 290 million gallons in 2007, according to Zenith International, a British consulting group. Americans drink 3.8 quarts per person per year.


Griffiths was also senior author on a September paper on caffeinated energy drinks in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.


Red Bull, the best-selling energy drink in the USA, contains 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8.3-ounce can, says spokeswoman Patrice Radden, about the equivalent of a cup of coffee. She says that's well below the 400-milligram-per-day caffeine limit at which "the general population is not at risk from potential adverse effects from caffeine," according to health authorities worldwide.


The drinks are aggressively marketed to young men as performance enhancers, with ads and promotions often linked to extreme sports. The market in the USA began with the introduction of Red Bull in 1997 and has expanded rapidly. The drinks are advertised as able to increase endurance, reaction time and concentration, with names such as Full Throttle, Amp Energy and No Fear.


It's the wide variations between brands that are a danger, Griffiths says.


"You can pick up a can and drink it and get 50 milligrams, which is the amount in a Mountain Dew, or pick one up and get 500 milligrams, and that's enough to put someone who hasn't built up a tolerance to caffeine into caffeine intoxication, resulting in nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, tremors and rapid heart rate," Griffiths says.


In a statement, the American Beverage Association says lumping mainstream energy drinks with moderate amounts of caffeine with "companies seeking attention and increased sales based solely on extreme names and caffeine content" was unhelpful.


As for caffeine content, "consumers can easily find out how much caffeine is in a beverage by calling the company's 1-800 number or visiting its website" for those drinks that don't list content on their labels, the association says.


Energy drinks are also frequently used as a mixer with alcohol, Griffiths says.


"There's good evidence that when you do that, people are less able to discriminate how intoxicated they are, so they're more likely to get into alcohol-related accidents," he says.


The FDA does not comment on petitions, says spokesman Michael Herndon.


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