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It's important for consumers and especially parents to learn all they can about the pure caffeine powder that has been linked to the recent death of an Ohio teenager.
The Food and Drug Administration is considering regulatory action pending its investigation into the death of 18-year-old Logan Stiner, who died on May 27 after consuming the powder. In the meantime, it is recommending that consumers avoid the substance.
"One of the important aspects of this tragedy is that it shines a light on how caffeine is overused and misused in the entire food supply," Jim O'Hara, health promotion policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Yahoo Health. "Caffeine is being introduced in an indiscriminate fashion and is causing the potential for serious health risks, especially for young people."
Caffeine-enhanced products such as energy drinks have come under intense scrutiny during the past several years after a number of reported deaths were linked to overconsumption. The FDA says pure caffeine powder is more potent and dangerous than energy drinks, so here are five things to know to keep yourself or your children safe.
1. It is popular among teens and young adults.
"Parents need to know that young people may be attracted to powdered caffeine products," FDA spokesperson Jennifer Dooren told Yahoo Health in an email. The pure caffeine is often taken before a workout or practice for an extra boost. Partygoers take it to combat the depressant effects of alcohol or marijuana. It's also popular among college students as a way to help stay alert during late-night study sessions.
2. It is unregulated, easy to buy, and inexpensive.
Caffeine powder is considered a dietary supplement, so it is not subject to FDA regulations that other caffeine products are. The powder is sold in bulk almost exclusively on the Internet and is cheaper than other caffeinated products. One company offers a 100-gram shipment (the amount of caffeine in roughly 385 tall servings of Starbucks coffee) for $12. And it's actually possible to buy a whopping 20 kilograms of the powder, which is the same amount of caffeine in 76,923 tall servings of Starbucks coffee.
3. It is lethal in small doses.
Like with other substances, response to caffeine differs from person to person. Depending on where you look, the lowest lethal dose of caffeine ranges between 5 and 15 grams — and could be as low as 3 grams for children or someone with a heart condition. Normally, this amount would be impossible to ingest because you would have to drink at least 50 cups of coffee in a short amount of time. However, one teaspoon (approximately 3 grams) of the powdered caffeine is equal to 25 cups of coffee, according to the FDA. "The difference between a safe amount and a lethal dose is very small," said Dooren. To further complicate things, packaging labels for these products are confusing at best. Some list the recommended dose as either 1/16 or 1/32 of a teaspoon while other labels have it as 200 milligrams. Either way, unless you have the right tools, Dooren says, these amounts are difficult to measure accurately.
4. It is not instant coffee.
Confusing the caffeine powder with instant coffee could be a deadly mistake. Instant coffee is regulated by the FDA and usually contains less caffeine than the drip or percolated variety. On average, there are 74 milligrams of caffeine in one teaspoon of Folger's Instant Coffee, compared to more than 3,000 milligrams in a teaspoon of pure caffeine powder.
5. The symptoms of a caffeine overdose are serious.
For healthy adults, the FDA has recommends a caffeine limit of 400 milligrams a day — or about 20 to 28 ounces of coffee. Those who exceed this amount increase their risk of caffeine overdose. Warning signs that you've consumed too much include the following:
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Breathing trouble
- Muscle twitching
What You Can Do
The FDA strongly advises consumers to avoid the pure caffeine powder and encourages parents to talk to their children about its potential dangers. Those who choose to ingest the powder should carefully measure each dose with a digital milligram scale. You can help the FDA and report caffeine-powder-related overdoses by calling 240-402-2405.