While energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull are not inherently dangerous, their popularity has resulted in the doubling of hospital visits related to excessive intake. Now come reports that these caffeine-fueled drinks are the top-selling beverage — of any kind — in all Army and Air Force general stores worldwide. That has many in the military and medical profession concerned, and for good reason.
Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, and Colonel Erin Edgar, the chief surgeon for US Central Command, are joining forces to urge the Pentagon to do what the Food and Drug Administration so far has not: regulate the consumption of energy drinks. The problem, they argue, is that the military already authorizes the use of caffeine supplements for combat and related activities. But caffeine has a tipping point. This “cocktail of energy drinks, workout supplements, and [potential] prescription drugs,” they recently wrote in the military paper Stars and Stripes, can easily turn a pleasant buzz into a full-fledged panic attack.
Pentagon data confirm those fears. Soldiers who took energy supplements were more likely to suffer from irregular heartbeats; some in combat were not able to return to duty; and others required expensive, and sometimes dangerous, aeromedical evacuation.
The Pentagon shouldn’t remove energy drinks from Army and Air Force general stores. They’re popular and safe, if used in moderation. But the military need not perpetuate an unnecessary risk. It should take a close look at how much caffeine is in each of the various products used by soldiers — from Red Bull to caffeine-laced gum for combat purposes — and provide simple guidelines to troops on how much is too much.