Highly concentrated, bulk caffeine products have come under scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration for posing a public health threat.
Earlier this year on April 14, the FDA announced any concentrated forms of the substance illegal. At least two deaths in relatively healthy people have been linked to using concentrated versions of caffeine and initiatives to get it off the shelf are in full swing. The FDA was making swift moves to expel it from the consumer market.
For the most part, caffeine has been an unregulated stimulant across the world. The Mayo Clinic indicates the average adult in the United States drinks about 400 mg of caffeine each day. In small quantities caffeine does not pose a significant health risk; though age, genetics and quality of health can contribute to complications.
FDA Has Been Concerned
The FDA has been warning the public about the potential dangers of liquid and powdered caffeine for quite some time. Often sold in bulk form, concentrated liquid versions contain nearly 2,000 mg of caffeine, while powdered forms contain nearly 3,200 mg. This equates to a potentially toxic dose of roughly 20-28 cups of coffee.
The problem with concentrated versions is the consumer has to measure out the dose they are taking; a handful of issues may go wrong if left up to the consumer to dose themselves. Even though bulk caffeine can be sold with a warning label or a measuring device, consumers have to adulterate the amount they are taking.
In April 2018, the FDA issued a report titled, Highly Concentrated Caffeine in Dietary Supplements: Guidance for Industry. The agency reported, “Because consumers are unlikely to have the correct tools to accurately measure these amounts, even a consumer who reads the warning statement and attempts to measure a safe serving might inadvertently consume an unsafe amount. A simple mistake, such as measuring a serving in grams rather than milligrams, could result in a toxic dose being consumed.”
The FDA warning does not apply to over-the-counter drugs, supplements or traditionally caffeinated foods and beverages. However, these concentrated doses under scrutiny were marketed as dietary and weight-loss supplements which put unsuspecting consumers at risk of serious health complications.
Caffeine Death in the News
Concentrated caffeine has been popular among teenagers who are looking for an energy kick. Teens have shown a tendency to gravitate towards concentrated caffeine due to the availability and legal access online and across the nation. Some even use it in their workout routine for an increased amount of stamina.
In 2014, 18-year-old Ohio prom king Logan Stiner died of a caffeine overdose on his lunch break from school. A powdered version of the substance was found near his body. It was ruled that he died from an irregular heartbeat and seizure after ingesting a toxic amount.
Stiner’s case is not an anomaly. Highly concentrated versions can cause irregular and fatal irregularities in the heart, stroke, seizure and more.
Caffeine intoxication occurs when large quantities of caffeine are ingested. It is an overstimulation of the central nervous system similar to typical stimulant overdoses. It causes restlessness, anxiety, muscle twitching, irritability, heart complications and more.
Other side effects include:
- Migraine headache
- Frequent urination or inability to control urination
- Stomach upset
- Fast heartbeat
- Muscle tremors
According to the Mayo Clinic, certain medications can increase the negative side effects of caffeine.
Ephedrine is used in decongestants can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, seizure and high blood pressure.
Echinacea is an herbal supplement which can increase the concentration of caffeine in the blood system and catalyze already present side effects of caffeine.
Theophylline (or Theo-24, Elixophyllin, etc.) is a medication used to open up the bronchial airways. Taking it in conjunction with caffeine can lead to nausea and heart palpitations.
Three years ago, the FDA issued warning letters to five different companies that distributed concentrated caffeine as a dietary supplement. The companies in concern were Bridge City Bulk, SPN LLC dba Smartpowders, Purebulk Inc., Kreativ Health Inc. dba Natural Food Supplements, Hard Eight Nutrition LLC.
In 2012, the FDA also issued a warning letter to Breathable Foods Inc. as they had been marketing a “breathable” version of caffeine to consumers.