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Potent powdered caffeine raises safety worries

Wade Sweatt thought he had found a healthier way to get himself going in the morning. Instead of getting his daily jolt of caffeine from a cup of coffee or a Coke, Sweatt decided last summer to try mixing some powdered caffeine he had bought via the Internet with some water or milk. 

"Wade was very health-conscious, a very healthy person," says Sweatt's father, James. "His idea was, this was healthier than getting all the sugar and the sodium and ... artificial sweeteners from drinking Coca-Colas and diet Cokes."

"Within just a few minutes his heart began beating out of control," James Sweatt says. "And eventually - within just a few minutes - his heart stopped."

The ambulance workers who responded and the doctors at the hospital were able to get Wade's heart going again. But it kept stopping. Eventually, the young man fell into a coma and died.

A single teaspoon of pure caffeine is roughly equivalent to the amount in 25 cups of coffee, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "Once this caffeine hits your bloodstream - and it does so very quickly - there is just nothing, really, anybody can do," James Sweatt says. 

Caffeine overdose symptoms can include rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, seizures and death. Other symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, stupor and disorientation. The symptoms are likely to be much more severe in people who use caffeine powder than in those who drink too much coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverages.

It is unclear how common it is for people to overdose on caffeine powder, but the Sweatts, along with Katie and Dennis Stiner, whose 18-year-old son Logan died after using caffeine powder in the hopes of improving his workout, want the FDA to ban powdered caffeine. Some poison experts, at least two senators, and others are also calling for a ban.

Laura MacCleery, an attorney with Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer rights advocacy group, believes it should not be sold in this form. "It should not be legal . . .," she says. "It is the most dangerous dietary supplement that is on the market today."

The FDA has issued a public alert warning consumers about the danger of powdered caffeine. The agency also has started calling companies that sell these products, urging them to voluntarily take powdered caffeine off the market, says Michael Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

"It is fundamentally irresponsible to be selling this powerful drug in this form to consumers," Taylor says. He calls pure powdered, bulk caffeine "a dangerous, potent drug that, if taken in as little as a teaspoon, runs the risk of being a lethal overdose to people."

The FDA, Taylor adds, has started building a case to force companies to stop selling powdered caffeine if they continue to disregard the warnings.

Source: National Public Radio (NPR)

Photos courtesy of James Sweatt and Center for Science in the Public Interest

Written by: Lisa Callaham
Posted: Jan 08, 2015 by Lisa Callaham

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