Why the FDA is warning parents about powdered caffeine

WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Samir Gupta discusses five significant health effects of caffeine. 

TORONTO — A single teaspoon is allegedly the equivalent of 25 cups of coffee. On the heels of the death of an Ohio teen, the FDA is warning parents about powdered caffeine.

It’s sold online, and is popular among teenagers and young adults, health officials warn. While caffeine may be ubiquitous in coffee, soda, energy drinks and tea, the powdered product is in its pure form and is a powerful stimulant.

“It’s a modern day caffeine pill, but it’s far more potent. In a pill, there’s powder and a binder but in the powder, you’re taking it in a pure form,” Dr. Ali Zentner, a Vancouver-based medical expert, said.

“Very small amounts can cause accidental overdose,” Jim O’Hara, director of health promotion with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Global News.

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READ MORE: Teen’s sudden death highlights dangers of unregulated caffeine powder

And that’s exactly what happened: on May 27, Logan Stiner, 18, died — an autopsy pointed to a lethal amount of caffeine in his system.

Stiner, a wrestler, had more than 70 micrograms of caffeine per millilitre of blood in his system — that’s about 23 times the amount found in a typical coffee or soda drink, according to an Ohio county coroner.

In response, the FDA says it’s investigating caffeine powder and may even consider taking regulatory action. Right now, caffeine powder is marketed as a dietary supplement and doesn’t follow the same rules as other caffeinated products. Read the full FDA advisory here.

READ MORE: Caffeine common for kids, even preschoolers, study shows

Energy drinks, five-hour energy shots and other stimulants turn into go-to products young adults use for studying, sports or recreational use.

“What we’re seeing is young people are using it because they think they need an edge,” O’Hara said.

The instructions on the packaging for powdered caffeine are also worrisome to the FDA.

“The difference between a safe amount and a lethal dose of caffeine in these powdered products is very small,” FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Dooren told The Associated Press.

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The powder is hard to measure with kitchen tools, the FDA says. In one instance, O’Hara said directions called for one-eighth of a teaspoon.

Just 1/16th of a teaspoon can contain 200 milligrams of caffeine — that’s equal to two large cups of coffee. A full teaspoon comes with 3,200 milligrams, and at that point, consumers could feel the effects from alertness, to nausea within minutes.

Caffeine overdose can be lethal, too. Erratic heartbeat, seizures, neurological issues, elevated blood pressure and lack of sleep are only some of the symptoms, according to Zentner.

READ MORE: More than 4 cups of coffee a day could put your health at risk, study suggests

O’Hara says the CSPI has been asking North American health officials to crack down on how products are marketed and what ingredients are flying under the radar or without adequate warnings.

In recent years, there’s been a proliferation of products with added caffeine, he said. Maple syrup, jelly beans and candies — all appealing to young consumers — are among the added-caffeine trend, according to O’Hara.

“What we’re seeing more and more in the food industry is this use of caffeine indiscriminately and no one has the good scientific evidence for what this exposure through these various products is going to do. That’s the real concern,” he said.

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Zentner suggests that Canadian parents heed the FDA’s advice, even if it means simply monitoring caffeine intake in their kids.

“We see this with energy drinks, too. It sounds benign, but just because it’s sold over the counter, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have warnings associated with it,” she said.

“I don’t think powdered caffeine is a good idea for anyone.”

The FDA is already studying the safety of energy drinks and energy shots following reports of illness and death because of misuse.

Health Canada did not yet respond to a request for comment. In 2012, it forced energy drink producers to reformulate their beverages so they didn’t exceed federal limits on caffeine.

With files from the Associated Press

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