5 Hour Energy: 13 Deaths Linked To Caffeinated Drink [VIDEO]

By Jessica Barbanel on November 15, 2012 11:51 AM EST

supermarket shopping
supermarket shopping (Photo: Reuters)

5 Hour Energy, a two-ounce drink that offers stimulation without a crash later, is being investigated by the Food and Drug Administration for possible links to 13 deaths in the last four years.

The disturbing reports come on the heels of other F.D.A. filings in recent weeks about connections between energy drinks and health problems. Last month the F.D.A. said it had received five filings linking deaths to another energy drink, Monster Energy.

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The company that produces 5 Hour Energy, Living Essentials LLC, has had a windfall since launching the product in 2004. According to Forbes, it grossed more than $600 million in 2011 on $1 billion of retail sales.

Available in nine flavors and retailing, on average, for a $2.99 to $3.49 apiece, 5 Hour energy dominates the category despite mounted efforts by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Red Bull, according to Forbes.

The formula is a "blend of B-vitamins [like niacin], amino acids [such as taurine] and nutrients," the website says, and "about as much caffeine as a cup of premium coffee." But a 2010 analysis by ConsumerLab.com found that 5 Hour had levels of vitamins "thousands of times higher than recommended daily allowances," as well as "207mg of caffeine -- a massive amount per ounce, but less than the 260mg in a Starbucks tall coffee."

Nevertheless, Americans looking for an instant boost have run to convenient stores like 7-11 to buy multiple cases at once. One of the company's most effective targets? Teenagers and 20-somethings. The parents of a 14-year-old Maryland girl who died in December filed a lawsuit against the company that produces Monster Energy Drink, citing a link between the product and her death.

The complaint, which was filed on Oct. 19, said Anais Fournier of Hagerstown, Md. went into cardiac arrest after drinking two, 24-ounce Monster drinks in a 24-hour period.

The autopsy found that Fournier died of an arrhythmia from caffeine toxicity that prevented her heart from pumping blood correctly. Previously, she had suffered from a disorder that can weaken blood vessels.

The founder of Living Essentials - and creator of 5 Hour Energy - Manoj Bhargava told Forbes in February: "I'm killing it right now," as he sat in his office in Farmington Hills, Mich. That's probably a statement he wishes he could take back right now. But these profiles aren't going anywhere, and Bhargava may need to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions.

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