The FDA is raising hackles over the equivalent of an espresso shot in a bottle: the popular 5-Hour Energy drink that has billions of dollars in sales over the past decade.
The hubbub over 5-Hour Energy, which has some fans stockpiling 12-packs of the bottles in anticipation of a possible ban, was sparked by an article in the New York Times claiming that 5-Hour Energy has been “linked” to 13 deaths reported to the FDA in the past four years.
In truth, millions of bottles of 5-Hour Energy are consumed every week, and there is no evidence whatsoever of a causal connection. But anything printed in the Times is considered news, no matter how absurd the premise, and numerous major news outlets have run with their own version of the story. Even the Onion got in on the action, with a story titled, “5-Hour Energy CEO: Deaths Just Collateral Damage In War On That 2:30 Feeling.”
The FDA, not known for its sense of humor, is planning a full-fledged probe into the product. But even if this army of professional busybodies finds something to complain about, no amount of regulation can substitute for common sense. Used incorrectly or in excess, pretty much anything can kill you. As reported in Scientific American, several people die every year from “water intoxication” – drinking so much water that your brain cells burst. According to the Book of Odds, a searchable online database of probabilities, an average of two or three Americans are killed every year by vending machines, making them just about as deadly as 5-Hour Energy supposedly is. But so far the FDA has investigated neither Poland Spring nor the death-traps-in-waiting that distribute it.
For all we know, 5-Hour Energy has actually saved lives. Think of all those droopy-eyed drivers on the interstate coming home from work. Wouldn’t it be safer if a few more of them consumed 5-Hour Energy? Given that car accidents have been responsible for 140,000 fatalities in the past four years, it is conceivable that these little pick-me ups have saved many more than the dozen or so lives they have supposedly extinguished.
5-Hour Energy also contains ingredients with clear health benefits, such as folic acid and B vitamins. One recent study cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture finds that many Americans may be suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency, with symptoms ranging from problems with balance to red blood cell anemia and dementia. The FDA and the Times think they know how many people 5-Hour has hurt, but we’ll probably never know how many it has helped.
Some are clamoring for 5-Hour to be legally required to list its ingredients on the bottle. But there’s a common-sense solution here, too. If a product doesn’t say what’s in it, and that’s a concern, then don’t buy it. No one is compelling another to reach for 5-Hour Energy. Thanks to the wonders of our competitive market economy, there are hundreds of ways to stay hyped up all day.
And that’s a good thing, too. If the FDA really gets serious about cracking down on energy drinks (it’s also investigating Monster and Rockstar), what will be the costs to the American economy in lost productivity? With the fiscal cliff on the horizon and a double-dip recession threatening, the last thing we need is a return of that “2:30 feeling.”