June 25 (Reuters) - A consumer advocacy group on Wednesday asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to add a safety warning on energy drinks because the caffeine-charged beverages have been linked to 17 deaths since October 2012.
No study has proven that energy drinks directly caused these deaths, but 34 people died in the United States in the last decade after drinking 5-Hour Energy, Monster or Rockstar beverages, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
More than 50 people also were hospitalized for high blood pressure, convulsions and heart attacks after consuming energy drinks. The drinks, which are especially popular with teens, typically contain guarana, taurine and caffeine.
"I don't think anybody knows what (these chemicals in energy drinks) do," said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, which calculated the numbers using data it obtained from the FDA. "It's not clear what their risks are."
The FDA said it has been studying the drinks for several years and is evaluating the deaths. "This does not necessarily mean that the energy drink caused the death," an FDA spokesperson said. "Frequently there are other complicating factors, such as existing disease or medications the person may have been taking."
Spokespeople for Monster Beverage Corp, Rockstar Energy Drink and 5-Hour Energy were not immediately available for comment.
"Energy drinks are safe. They meet all the standards required by the federal regulators," said Christopher Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association.
CSPI also asked the FDA to lower the legally allotted amount of caffeine in energy drinks to 71 milligrams per 12 ounces -- the amount permissible in colas.
In 2005, the group urged the FDA to introduce labels to sugar-rich drinks warning consumers of obesity. Two years prior, CSPI succeeded in a 10-year campaign to list data on trans fats on all Nutrition Facts labels.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin; Editing by Jilian Mincer and Leslie Adler)