Coffee, tea, soda—caffeinated beverages are our favorite pick-me-up.
Even with a cappuccino shop on every corner, Americans can’t get
enough caffeine. To satisfy our ever-growing desire for an energy boost,
caffeine in powdered form has become available online and in stores, to
the dismay of consumer advocates and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA recently sent letters to five manufacturers of powdered caffeine,
warning them that the product is potentially dangerous and presents a
significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury.
The FDA letters follow the deaths of two young men who had ingested pure
powdered caffeine last year. They were both attracted to powdered caffeine
as source of quick energy. News reports said one of the men thought that
blending his own energy drinks out of pure caffeine and water would be
a safe and healthy alternative to the soda he usually drank.
Why the concern over the powdered form of a substance that 80 percent of
U.S. adults consume every day?
Ricardo Gomez, MD, a pulmonologist and internal medicine physician with
St. Mary High Desert Medical Group in Victorville, explains: “Pure powdered caffeine is an industrial
product that has become available to consumers. Most of the powdered caffeine
in America is used in the manufacture of soft drinks. Now it is being
sold as a retail dietary supplement that anyone can buy in bulk. The regulation
hasn’t yet caught up to the sales, so this food additive is being
marketed to a public that may not be fully aware of the risks.”
Dr. Gomez said caffeine is safe when consumed in the relatively small amounts
contained in coffee and soft drinks. “It is also safe in the amounts
used in over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription medicines for
treating migraines. But in pure powdered form it is exceptionally potent.
Drinking a glass of water with a single teaspoon of pure caffeine is the
same as drinking around 25 cups of coffee all at once. Ten grams—approximately
one tablespoon—of pure caffeine can be lethal.”
Powdered caffeine appeals mainly to athletes hoping to increase their performance
and students looking to bear down on their studies, but the risk greatly
exceeds that of drinking a pot of coffee to pull an all-nighter.
“Because powdered caffeine is so concentrated, the difference between
a safe amount and a toxic amount is very small,” Dr. Gomez says,
“so you can’t safely shake a little bit into a glass and make
a drink out of it.” The FDA has noted that portioning out accurate
amounts of powdered caffeine is almost impossible to do with ordinary
kitchen measuring spoons because of variations in how tightly it is packed
in the bag.
“You might get more in one spoonful than another even if they both
appear level, and just a small amount more could cause an accidental overdose,”
Dr. Gomez adds.
Dr. Gomez goes on to say, “Ingesting pure caffeine in excessive amounts
causes acute caffeine toxicity, which can produce cardiac arrhythmia and
seizure. In the most severe cases, the result can be coma and even death.
Because of the health risks, anyone who is thinking about caffeinating
their own food and drink should reconsider, and people who have a heart
condition should not use pure powdered caffeine products.”
Dr. Gomez recommends limiting your daily caffeine intake to around 400
milligrams, which is what you would find in around four cups of coffee
or ten 12-ounce sodas. If you consume more than 500 or 600 milligrams
per day or if you ingest a lot of caffeine in a short period, you may
experience the jitters, muscle tremors, and upset stomach.
“If you’re trying to cut back on caffeine,” Dr. Gomez
says, “there are plenty of other things to drink for a mid-morning
lift. Feelings of fatigue are often brought on by dehydration, and, in
that case, a glass of fruit juice or lemon water will refresh you better
than a diuretic like coffee.”
How do you manage your caffeine intake? Share a comment below.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.