Teen's death puts focus on caffeine powder dangers

Teen's death puts focus on caffeine powder dangers
This Jan. 16, 2014, photo shows Keystone High School wrestler Logan Stiner during a match in Sheffield Village, Ohio. (AP Photo/Steve Manheim, The Chronicle Telegram)
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The sudden death of a healthy high school senior has focused attention on unregulated caffeine powder.
    
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers to avoid the substance, as it collects more information.
    
A recent autopsy found that 18-year-old Logan Stiner had a lethal amount of caffeine in his system when he died May 27 at his home in LaGrange, Ohio, southwest of Cleveland.
    
A coroner said the prom king and wrestler had as much as 23 times the amount of caffeine in his system found in a typical coffee or soda drinker.
    
Health officials worry about the powder's potential popularity among exercise enthusiasts and young people seeking an energy boost. It's sold as a dietary supplement, not subject to the same federal regulations as certain caffeinated foods.

5 Things to Know about Caffeine Powder

1) Caffeine powder is readily available

Bulk caffeine powder can easily be bought online. Both Amazon and eBay sell the substance. Pouches can start at more than $7, with just over a pound costing about $15. Users add the powder to drinks for a pick-me-up before workouts or to control weight gain.
   
2) This isn't instant coffee
   
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the product is essentially 100 percent caffeine. A teaspoon is roughly equivalent to the amount in 25 cups of coffee. The agency cautions that it's almost impossible for users to accurately measure the powder with kitchen tools, and people can easily take a lethal amount.
   
Generally, 5 to 10 grams is considered a toxic dose in adults, while 3 grams can be a toxic dose in children.
   
Some brands explain the risks in fine print. For instance, labels on Hard Rhino's caffeine powder tell consumers that failing to follow guidelines can result in serious injury or death. "This is PURE CAFFEINE and a little goes a long way," it reads. The suggested use is between 1/32nd and 1/16th of a teaspoon. People are encouraged to use a micro scale for precise measurement.
   
3) Federal authorities warn consumers to avoid the powder
   
The FDA is warning consumers to avoid powdered caffeine, especially people with pre-existing heart conditions. The agency said it is working collect additional information about the powered products and will consider taking regulatory action as appropriate.
   
4) Caffeine affects people differently
   
Responses to caffeine can vary widely, particularly if there are other underlying medical issues, medical experts say. High amounts of caffeine can lead to an increased risk for cardiac arrhythmias, palpitations, seizures, strokes or even death. The FDA has said 400 milligrams of caffeine a day - roughly 20 to 28 ounces of coffee - is generally not dangerous to healthy adults.
   
5) Caffeine overdose deaths are uncommon, but not unheard of
   
There have been at least two deaths associated with caffeine, along with 40 life-threatening events from 2008 to 2012, according to data from the nation's poison control centers.  During that period, at least 5,095 people were treated in a health care facility for caffeine exposure. But it's unknown how many of those cases stemmed from caffeine powder.
   
In 2012, federal health authorities said they were investigating reports of 13 deaths possibly linked to so-called energy shots. The FDA said then it had received 92 reports over four years that cite illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths after consumption of a product marketed as 5-Hour Energy. The agency had also received reports that cited the highly caffeinated Monster Energy Drink in five deaths and one nonfatal heart attack.

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