Caffeine is how many of us start our day.
It is often part of the “energy” in energy drinks, and part of what we depend on to jumpstart the morning.
While caffeine is one of the most commonly consumed stimulants in the world, its overconsumption can lead to serious health risks.
The FDA is particularly concerned about one such public health risk: death.
When we brew a pot of coffee, caffeine is one component.
Ever wonder what would happen if you were to drink a glass of pure caffeine?
The FDA recently provided the answer: it’s lethal.
FDA's actions have been prompted, in part, by two recent deaths associated with highly-concentrated caffeine products.
Before you put away your coffeepot, caffeine overdose is extremely rare, especially from beverages alone, as Vox’s Julia Belluz recently wrote.
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, over 60% of Americans drink coffee daily.
While a few cups of coffee can lead to jitters and other health issues, one would have to drink a lot of coffee, quickly, to hit toxic levels.
An average 8 ounce cup of coffee contains around 100 milligrams of caffeine, although many commercially-available coffees contain more.
The EU’s Food Safety Authority has noted that caffeine intake up to 400 milligrams per day is safe for most people when consumed throughout the day.
Many individuals, like children, can be particularly sensitive to caffeine’s effects.
Still, the FDA estimates toxic effects, like seizures, are observed around 1,200 milligrams, or 0.15 tablespoons of pure caffeine.
The risks of caffeine overdose increase as the caffeine consumed becomes more concentrated, meaning smaller dosages could lead to more powerful effects.
Concentrated powders or pure liquid caffeine could deliver deadly doses of an otherwise safe food ingredient.
The risk is especially pronounced when the caffeine is contained in large bulk packages, increasing the likelihood of an overdose.
These products have already been associated with at least two deaths.
As the FDA noted, a teaspoon of powdered caffeine contains 3,200 milligrams of caffeine, far more than a toxic dose.
The FDA warned in 2013 that products with added caffeine are proliferating in the food supply. While consumers expect to find caffeine in coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks, the FDA noted that other sources of caffeine could come as a surprise, such as certain types of candy, waffles, gum, water, and syrup.
The FDA took action against alcoholic beverages containing high quantities of caffeine years ago.
Fortunately, the FDA has launched new guidance as it prepares to take immediate steps to withdraw highly concentrated and pure caffeine products from the market.
Even if these products contained warnings, individual consumers would not be able to separate out a small, precise serving from a potentially lethal amount, posing “a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury,” according to the agency.
Moreover, the FDA cautioned that these highly-concentrated caffeine products could all too often resemble safe household items:
Highly concentrated caffeine in a clear liquid form could be easily confused with commonly available liquids, such as water or distilled vinegar, and pure powdered caffeine could be easily confused with flour or powdered sugar. The consequences of a consumer mistakenly confusing one of these products could be toxic or even lethal.
The FDA is taking appropriate, and appropriately limited, action to address a public health threat.
While most of us consume caffeine, it’s important to know there’s an upper bound to caffeine consumption.
Sometimes too much is too much.