Some carbonated sodas and energy drinks are loaded with caffeine and can give an unhealthy pick-me-up to unsuspecting consumers, University of Florida researchers warn.
Because caffeine can pose health risks for people with certain medical conditions, beverages containing the additive should clearly list the amount they contain, a UF toxicologist recommends in a report assessing caffeine levels of cold beverages published this month in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology.
Bruce Goldberger, director of UF's William R. Maples Center for Forensic Medicine, said the surprisingly high caffeine content in some beverages could present problems for pregnant women and children, and for adults with hypertension, heart disease or mental health ailments such as anxiety.
"We weren't surprised that there was caffeine in the sodas and some of the other beverages," said Goldberger, who is also director of toxicology and a professor of pathology and psychiatry at UF's College of Medicine. The surprise, he said, was the high concentration of caffeine in some of the energy drinks, which exceeded the government's recommendations for cold beverages.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends a maximum caffeine concentration of 65 milligrams per 12-ounce serving of cola beverages, though it does not regulate caffeine content of these drinks. And although the agency requires the presence of caffeine be disclosed, it does not mandate that caffeine quantity be specified on labeling for energy drinks and cold coffee beverages.
The UF team tested 10 energy drinks, 19 sodas and seven other beverages and found some energy drinks have up to 141 milligrams in a single serving - more than twice the content of some espresso coffee drinks.
The sodas tested, including Coca-Cola and Pepsi products, ranged from 0 to 48 milligrams a serving, well below the maximum recommended amount. A&W Root Beer, Sprite, 7-Up and Seagram's Ginger Ale were among the caffeine-free drinks. However, the caffeine content of most energy drinks exceeded the maximum recommended limit. One energy drink with the highest caffeine content had a whopping 141 milligrams per serving, more than a double-shot cold espresso drink.
These drinks are often marketed as enhancing performance and stimulating metabolism and are sometimes described as being "highly vitalizing." Yet in certain people, consumption of caffeine causes serious health effects, such as anxiety, palpitations, irritability, difficulty sleeping and stomach complaints, Goldberger said. Because the amount of caffeine is not labeled on the drinks' packaging, pregnant women, children, infants or people with certain psychiatric diseases or anxiety conditions may unknowingly ingest too much, he added.
The American Dietetic Association suggests women avoid caffeine while pregnant or breastfeeding, citing findings from studies linking caffeine consumption to miscarriage and low-birth weight babies.