Local heart doctor comments on federal investigation into 5-hour Energy drinks

Adverse events after energy drinks investigated.

In Florida, there have been 97 reports of adverse reactions to energy drinks to Poison Control in the last three years.  In many cases, callers complained of scary heart symptoms. 

It's a small bottle, just two ounces, but it packs a powerful caffeine punch, equal to two cups of coffee.  Leading the way in the new and growing segment of energy drinks is 5-hour Energy.

But now the Federal Government and the New York Attorney General's office are investigating claims that it can do more than that.  The FDA has received reports of 13 deaths and 33 hospitalizations over the past four years, claiming 5-hour Energy was possibly involved.

Dr. Sean Patrick Nordt is USC's Director of the Section of Toxicology.

"Now if someone is to use multiple cans, which is when we start to see some of the side effects  of this, you're getting up to astronomical amounts, like 30 to 40 cups of coffee."

But in 2010, I interviewed a Florida mom who says her son, Drew, died of a cardiac arrhythmia after consuming only half of a different kind of energy drink. The caffeine content wasn't listed.

Cheryl James says, the medical examiner confirmed her growing suspicion. "He said 'Taken into consideration the amount of caffeine he consumed, I would say caffeine played a large part in your son's death."

Heart specialist Doctor Charles Lambert says too much caffeine can have adverse effects on anyone. "Some of the heart affects are palpitations, a rapid heart beat, some people will feel flushed, they'll get red, feel hyper energized. Some people will get cardiac arrhythmias. People with coronary heart disease can get chest pain. "

But manufacturers point out that these are just claims being investigated, and there is no proven link between the drinks and the deaths.

During an interview with ABC News, the creator of 5-hour Energy said when used as directed, the caffeine in his product doesn't do any harm. Manoj Bhargaval is the CEO as well. "It's overblown. When it's in small quantities, it's like this, water is good, but if you have too much you drown.

In an unscientific test at Florida Hospital Tampa's Pepin Heart Institute, we had photographer Taylor Vinson drink one 5-hour Energy drink. Twenty minutes later, no change to his heart rate or blood pressure but Dr. Lambert warns each person reacts differently to different doses of caffeine.

Most experts say the fatal dose of caffeine for an adult would be almost impossible to drink, 50 to 60 times what is contained in an energy drink.  But critics worry about children with underlying heart problems drinking  them and our state Poison Control confirms some of those 97 calls were because toddlers drank the energy drinks.

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