Put Down That Coffee! The New York Times Says It Might Kill You!


For the last few weeks New York Times business reporter Barry Meier has been waging a campaign against energy drinks, beginning with an October 22 story headlined "Monster Energy Drink Cited in Deaths," referring to "adverse event" reports received by the FDA. In that piece Meier bragged that "Monster Beverage's stock ended down Monday more than 14 percent, sliding sharply after The New York Times reported about the F.D.A. filings." He followed up the next day with another report on the consequences of his own reporting: "Safety Becomes a Concern With High-Caffeine Drinks." Three days later he was back with a news story arguing that "Reports on Energy Drinks Show Gaps in Safety Policy." Yesterday he gave us "Caffeinated Drink Cited in Reports of 13 Deaths," referring to 5-Hour Energy, a pick-me-up sold in two-ounce bottles that Meier says contain about 215 milligrams of caffeine each. By comparison, Meier says, "An eight-ounce cup of coffee, depending on how it is made, can contain from 100 to 150 milligrams of caffeine." So even according to Meier, a bottle of 5-Hour Energy contains no more caffeine than two cups of coffee, an amount that many Americans (including me, just now!) drink every day. In fact, America's 100 million or so coffee consumers drink, on average, three cups a day, meaning they regularly exceed the caffeine dose that Meier seems to think is dangerous.

Depending on the kind of coffee you drink and the method used to brew it, your caffeine intake may exceed the amount suggested by Meier's range. According to Energy Fiend, for instance, eight ounces of Starbucks coffee typically contains about 180 milligrams of caffeine and can range as high as 280 or so. Meier says his figure for the caffeine content of 5-Hour Energy comes from "a recent article published by Consumer Reports." According to a February 2011 Consumer Reports review of the product, "an October 2010 analysis by, an independent group that conducts product evaluations, found that it contained about 207 milligrams of caffeine." Energy Fiend says that's the caffeine content of the "extra strength" version, while the regular version has 138. Another point of comparison: A tablet of maximum-strength No Doz (safe as coffee!) contains 200 milligrams of caffeine.

Yet Meier wants us to believe that 5-Hour Energy, unlike these older sources of caffeine, poses a deadly threat to consumers. "Since 2009," he writes, "5-Hour Energy has been mentioned in some 90 filings with the F.D.A., including more than 30 that involved serious or life-threatening injuries like heart attacks." That's two dozen or so reports a year, compared to hundreds for coffee, even though people probably are much more apt to attribute their symptoms to newer, less familiar products. And as Meier notes in the fourth paragraph (emphasis added):

The filing of an incident report with the F.D.A. does not mean that a product was responsible for a death or an injury or contributed in any way to it. Such reports can be fragmentary in nature and difficult to investigate.

That is not just a caveat you stick into a story that is otherwise aimed at stoking fear among consumers and prompting action by regulators and legislators. It is the sort of consideration that should lead a careful reporter (or a prudent editor) to reconsider the whole story.

Previous coverage of this incipient energy drink panic here and here.

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  1. Don’t forget 5Hour Energy’s track record of causing spontaneous abortion! Which I believe is usually referred to as a miscarriage.

    1. So maybe 5-Hour Energy is the cause of those grizzly sounding deaths, and maybe it isn’t. Either way, we’ve seen this chain of events before. Somebody like The Times spots the correlation. Some government agency conducts an investigation, maybe banning some things even though that won’t bring the victims back from the dead. And, inevitably, nobody wins.

      Seriously, just fuck us all. We are so doomed.

    2. Good lord, Yahoo! “news” linking to an Atlantic Wire piece. Way to double down on the concern trolling Brett. (Not you, the “news”)

  2. Careful reporter? Prudent editor? HA!

    1. Careful reporting and prudent editing doesn’t sell newspapers the way cheap sensationalism does.

  3. Holy crap! The 57mg in a bottle of Coke Zero is enough to give me a headache, never mind the 200+ in this other stuff. I must be some kind of idiot to voluntarily not drink things that I know will have serious side-effects on my health.

    1. I usually get headaches if I DON’T have caffeine for some amount of time (often the weekend).

      That’s probably physiological dependency talking, though.

    2. Some people are extra sensitive to caffeine. You are probably one of them. As are any people who had adverse reactions to the energy drinks.

      1. It’s some kind of chemical imbalance that causes migraines and, yes, makes me extra sensitive to brain chemistry altering drugs. What I find fun sometimes is getting high off three cans of Mt Dew.

        1. I used to get brutal migraines, as in I was getting suicidal, that were reliably triggered by caffeine or a big dose of sugar.

          I was basically off of caffeine and desserts for a couple of years, which meant they just happened randomly.

          It was hell.

          1. Same here. I stopped ingesting anything with caffeine for about 4 years, it took about 6 months to break the addiction. Now I have no more than one bottle of soda per day.

          2. Maybe Doc Groovus has some insight. I used to get massive migraines in my 20’s fairly regularly. But I haven’t really had any migraines (maybe one a year) for the last 12 years. I didn’t change my diet, and have probably increased my caffiene intake. I think you may just “grow out of them”?

        2. You drink Mountain Dew?

          I’d rather try crab juice.

    3. So let me get this straight- you don’t drink caffeinated drinks, don’t get a headache, and then don’t take drugs for those headaches you don’t get.

      You job killing swine. You’re everything that’s wrong with this country.

      1. Oh I get the headaches anyway and take drugs. So you see, it’s just the evil soda manufacturers that are getting shafted anyway, just the way Mikey likes it.

      2. I have a great uncle who thinks he might have had a headache one time… asshole. Migraines run in my family (and I occasionally get them, though frequently get headaches), and this joker thinks he might have one time had a headache. Grah!

  4. That actually makes a LOT of sesne dude.

    1. It’s kinda sad to see the anonbot regressing. I guess anonbotogeddon will be held off for a while longer.

    2. Fuck you anonbot, you will never get my coffee!

      1. You can have my coffee when you pry it from my cold dead hands.

        Which apparantly could be ANY SECOND NOW. FILM AT ELEVEN.

  5. The biggest deterrent to drinking 5 hr energy is the taste. If they ever made one that didn’t taste like bear piss, I would probably try it more than once.

    1. I hear tell the pomegranate variety is less gross than the others.

      1. They’ve all got nutrasweet or aspartame or whatever that crap is that tastes like movie theater mop wringings and stays in your mouth for a decade.

        Luckily I get kola nuts here.

        1. I don’t get why companies still use aspartame, unless it’s a cost factor. Splenda, IMO, is much sweeter and doesn’t have the horrible aftertaste.

          1. My mom loves Splenda, it’s her aritificial sugar-replacement of choice. She really, REALLY hates Nutra-sweet though, the guy’s such a douche.

            1. I’ve yet to find any artificial sweetener that doesn’t taste the way Whiterun describes, even Splenda. Fortunately I don’t like soda any more anyway, so I’m never tempted.

        2. Koala nuts? You must have one heck of a grocery store. I can’t find those anywhere.

      1. I certainly pass on them.

    2. Another deterrent to drinking 5 hr energy is the fact that it doesn’t work. I tried one once, and it didn’t do shit. I was still dozing off at my desk.

      1. I’m pretty much the same. Caffeine and energy drinks only elevate my heart rate, which prevents me from falling asleep. But I still feel tired as shit. Not worth it.

    3. Bear piss? You drink bear piss?

      1. Maybe he’s German. No wait, they drink Ram’s piss, nevermind.

      2. It’s my anti-drug.

    4. The taste is awful. Like concentrated, chalky Nutrasweet.

      But the thing that put me off 5-hour Energy after one try was I got some serious (what I suspect to be) niacin flush out of it. That sucked.

      I drink other energy drinks high in B-vitamins and niacin in particular and I never have had a similar reaction. I don’t know what it was, but I thought my face was on simmer.

  6. Are there any ideas about why people buy these drinks? I don’t know if or how they are marketed and the article makes no mention of this. Like a fibre drink, is it marketed to fill a perceived ‘lack of energy?’ Maybe as a way to get through that double shift?

    I was raised in happier times. “Coke adds life” is what I remember, and who can say no to more life? “5 hour energy adds drudgery” seems appropriate to this drink. More drudgery? No thanks.

    1. I don’t drink them very often unless I am really really tired and need to make it for a few more hours, especially on long road trips.

      1. A long road trip at night was also what I thought about, but even then I’m not persuaded to switch from my old standby, a cup or two of strong, tasty coffee, or better yet, an ‘energy nap.’

  7. Shorter New York Times: Don’t consume energy drinks. Do put your hair in a man bun and wax your pubic hair:…..ingle.html

  8. All new products sold in the US that become popular are eventually seen as being dangerous. Try to think of one that hasn’t been.

    1. Not just products, services too.

      1. For instance, fish pedicures.…..cures.html

    2. There’s probably some merit to that. This drink certainly seems to fall into the dangerous new product category. Why are ‘all new products sold in the US’ dangerous? I think it’s a question that deserves some consideration.

      1. Because no new products or services are allowed to be marketed, until they have paid tribute money to government. Those that don’t comply, will be banished.

        1. You mean only dangerous products can afford to pay this money? I’m not convinced.

          1. OR, you’re a moron and they’re all subjected to this regardless of the risks involved. If we didn’t already have coffee, and someone tried to introduce it today, it would probably be outlawed before or restricted before too long.

      2. It’s pretty much the same reason urethral, vaginal, and vulvar irritation is attributed to bubble bath more than regular soap.

  9. I hat pop-psychology, but the reason has to be psychological.

    1. I “hate”

  10. To be honest I have been surprised by all this buzz around energy drinks and FDA’s reports. Of course any death is always one too many but 13 deaths in 4 four years compared to 66,0000 caused by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Anyway caffeine has always been a usual suspect:…..ted-coffee

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