Caffeine Powder Safety Questions Raised Following Teen’s Death

Federal health regulators are warning consumers to avoid caffeine powder, after reports suggest that the death of an Ohio teen may have been caused by use of pure powdered caffeine that is commonly sold in bulk bags over the internet.

In a safety advisory issue Friday, the FDA indicated that even a small amount of pure caffeine powders may cause a fatal overdose, as a single teaspoon is roughly equivalent to the amount in 25 cups of coffee.

The product is often sold as a dietary supplement, so it is not subject to the same federal regulations as other caffeinated foods. However, it is essentially 100% pure caffeine, with only one-sixteenth of a teaspoon being the equivalent of two large cups of coffee, with approximately 200 mg of caffeine.

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The FDA indicates that it is aware of at least one death from caffeine powder, with an autopsy revealing that the boy had lethal amounts of caffeine in his system after consuming the powder, with more than 70 micrograms of caffeine per milliliter of blood.

While the FDA is investigating the death, consumers are being urged to avoid powdered caffeine, which may cause a number of serious side effects, including rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, seizures and death. Consumers may also experience vomiting, diarrhea, stupor and disorientation; all symptoms of caffeine toxicity. The symptoms are typically more severe than those from drinking too much coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverages.

The FDA warns it is nearly impossible to accurately measure powdered pure caffeine with common kitchen measuring spoons. The difference between a safe dose and a lethal dose is very small.

Powdered caffeine has become increasingly popular among teens and young adults, as a growing number of “energy” products continue to be marketed aggressively towards children, despite potential health risks.

Hospitalizations from caffeine toxicity have been reported across the country in recent years, often stemming from the use of energy drinks, shots and other products containing high amounts of caffeine and other stimulants. The FDA has said it will conduct an investigation and offer regulatory action where necessary.

Last year, there were more than 3,000 calls to poison control centers involving energy drinks. Nearly 2,000 of those calls involved children. Emergency room visits involving energy drinks have also doubled from more than 10,000 visits in 2007, to 20,783 in 2011. Most of the injuries involved teens and young adults.

Last year, Wrigley halted the sale of Alert Energy Caffeine Gum after an FDA investigation was launched concerning the products safety. The product contains 40 mg of caffeine per stick, the equivalent to half a cup of coffee; but in a form which is more readily consumable.

Amid rising concerns of energy drink health risks, many states are considering legislation that would restrict the sale of popular energy drinks, such as Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar, to minors. Both Illinois and New York recently introduced bills to the House of Representatives which would make selling energy drinks to anyone under 18 illegal.

Photo Courtesy of trophygeek via Flickr CC


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