Are Caffeinated Drinks Like Panera's Charged Lemonade Unsafe?

While many of us rely on a cup of coffee (or four) to get us through the day, there are mixed messages about caffeine and how it impacts our health.

Case in point: Last week, the news broke that the parents of 21-year-old Sarah Katz are suing the restaurant chain Panera Bread. Sadly, Katz died last year after drinking Panera's Charge Lemonade, which contains 390 milligrams of caffeine in a large size. That's the equivalent of about four cups of coffee.

We know what you're thinking: Four cups of coffee? Isn't that a normal(ish) amount of coffee to drink in a day? Unfortunately, Katz had a condition called Long QT syndrome, which can cause abnormal heart rhythms.  

According to the Cleveland Clinic, Long QT syndrome is an issue with the heart's electrical system and makes it more difficult for the heart to recharge between beats. Most likely, the high amount of caffeine content in Panera's lemonade stressed out her heart too much. 

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Here's the good news: According to Dr. Bradley Serwer, MD, a cardiologist and Chief Medical Officer at VitalSolution, the amount of caffeine in Panera's Charged Lemonade is probably safe to drink. "The amount of caffeine one can safely consume varies depending on the person's age, prior tolerance to caffeine and pre-existing medical condition," he says. "However, 400 milligrams of caffeine is generally considered a safe amount to consume on a daily basis. On average, an eight-ounce cup of coffee contains approximately 100 milligrams of caffeine. 

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Signs That You're Overdoing It With the Caffeine

While 400 milligrams of caffeine per day may be safe for most people, that doesn't mean everyone tolerates that amount very well. If you're wondering if caffeine is having a negative impact on you, Dr. Serwer suggests looking out for signs like jitteriness, tremors, irritation, tachycardia, insomnia, elevations in blood pressure, excess urination and an upset stomach.

He adds that as a drug, caffeine can become physically addictive. "Over time, your body will develop a tolerance to caffeine requiring the consumption of higher and higher doses in order to achieve the same benefits," Dr. Serwer explains. "We often see chronic caffeine abusers present with palpitations, tachycardia, insomnia, issues with the gastrointestinal system to include acid reflux and ulcers, anxiety or mood disorders can potentially become exacerbated and high caffeine intake."

With that in mind, Dr. Sewer says that there are many health benefits associated with moderate consumption of caffeine. "Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase mental alertness and improve cognitive focus. Caffeine helps improve physical stamina and can reduce the perceived effort during exercise. Caffeine has been associated with a lower risk of developing Diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease."

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Who Should Be Careful With Their Caffeine Consumption

While caffeine is well-tolerated by most, Dr. Serwer says that as a cardiologist, he often sees patients who should not be ingesting caffeine. "I see many patients with atrial fibrillation (also known as afib) or supraventricular tachycardia. Caffeine will increase their heart rates and increase the likelihood they will have a dangerous heart rhythm," he says.

And, he adds, patients with high blood pressure should be aware that caffeine can raise their blood pressure. "Acid reflux will also be worsened with caffeine intake and patients with anxiety or mood disorders should avoid caffeine in order to not worsen their mental health," he says. "Patients with seizure disorders or epilepsy should avoid caffeine which can lower the seizure threshold."

Long story short: Most people will be totally fine drinking a Charged Lemonade. But if it's a favorite of yours, beware: in addition to a high amount of caffeine, this drink has between 65 and 82 grams of sugar.

Considering the maximum amount of sugar the American Heart Association recommends consuming is around 36 grams per day, that may be an important reason to skip this beverage!

Next up: Is It a Bad Idea to Drink Coffee When You're Sick?