- A teaspoon of a caffeine supplement can be as strong as 32 cups of coffee.
- Kevin Loria/Business Insider
- A young man in Australia died after drinking a protein shake with a caffeine supplement. At least two other caffeine overdose deaths have been traced to supplements.
- Many people enjoy a cup of coffee to start their days, but too much caffeine can cause anxiety, heart palpitations, and even death.
Concentrated caffeine, which is cheap and easy to buy online, can contain as much caffeine as 32 cups of coffee per teaspoon, making it easy to use a deadly amount.
- Avoid high doses of caffeine by sticking to natural sources like tea or coffee that dilute the drug. If you must use a supplement, know how much you’re consuming in each cup, can, or scoop.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
Most Americans can’t imagine getting through the day without the boost from (at least) one morning cup of joe, and plenty of evidence suggests drinking it can be good for your brain and body and may even lead to a longer life.
But too much caffeine can be deadly.
Lachlan Foote, a 21-year-old from Sydney, Australia, died 18 months ago after drinking a highly-caffeinated protein shake. He reportedly mixed the shake himself after coming home from a few drinks with his friends, and his last Facebook message mentioned an odd bitter taste in his shake.
“I think my protein powder has gone off … Anyway … night lads. Cya in the morning,” he wrote, according to News Corp Australia. In the morning, though, his parents found him dead on the bathroom floor.
Now, the coroner has determined that his death was a caffeine overdose, and Foote’s family is speaking out about the dangers of powdered caffeine supplements similar to those Foote had added to his shake, the Blue Mountain Gazette reported.
Read more: We bought a bag of caffeine equivalent to 15,625 cans of Coca-Cola for $30
“I want the truth to be out there … for Lachlan’s sake and so that it won’t happen again,” his dad told the Gazette. “Maybe his death will benefit someone else.”
Caffeine can be lethal because it stresses the cardiovascular system
Caffeine is the world’s most popular psychoactive drug, added to everything from soda to soap.
It’s found naturally in coffee, tea, and chocolate, and acts as a central nervous system stimulant to make you feel a rush of energy, elevated mood, and increased focus.
But not all of its effects are positive: Even in normal doses, like your morning latte, it increases your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure, according to registered dietitian Leslie Bonci.
And, at higher doses, it can be dangerous. The Mayo Clinic recommends 400 mg of caffeine per day as a safe amount for most adults (kids and teens should avoid it). Any more than that, Bonci said, could make you feel anxious or jittery. It could even make you feel like your heart is racing or you can’t catch your breath, she added, sending some people to the ER.
The amount in a lethal dose varies based on body weight, but could be as little as 1,500 milligrams, Bonci said. That’s because in extreme cases, caffeine causes vomiting, cramps, and a fast, irregular heart beat, combined with low blood pressure that can lead to unconsciousness and eventually death.
Caffeine supplements are highly concentrated, making it dangerously easy to consume a lethal dose
Highly concentrated, readily-accessible online supplements are making it easy to cross the line between a quick boost and a lethal overdose. At least two deaths in the U.S. have been attributed to caffeine overdose.
The amount found in supplements is “just ridiculously high,” Bonci said. “You would never see that amount in a cup of Starbucks; it’s impossible.”
While most people would have to drink more than 20 cups of coffee at once to reach a fatal level of caffeine intoxication, caffeine in supplement form, whether tablets, powder or, liquid “energy shots,” are especially dangerous because they can hit your system all at once.
“The amount is so concentrated, and you don’t have anything to dilute it,” Bonci said. “There’s nothing to slow down the absorption, and the brain is going to feel that caffeine a lot faster.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on sales, but it’s still cheap and easy to buy caffeine supplements online.
Last year, the FDA issued warning letters to two American companies selling illegally high doses of concentrated caffeine. One of these contained 3,200 milligrams per teaspoon, as much as 20 to 30 cups of coffee or 80 cans of soda.
“Despite being informed of the dangers of highly concentrated and pure caffeine, we’re still finding companies that are disregarding consumer safety by illegally selling products with potentially dangerous and lethal amounts of caffeine,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb in a June 2018 press release.
Serving sizes of caffeine supplements are deceptive
The proper “serving size” of pure caffeine powder is 1/16 of a teaspoon, according to one product website. Most people don’t have a measuring spoon that small, and would need a precise digital scale to measure a safe dose, the FDA warned.
In other cases, users may not even have access to dose information. For Foote, there was no record of him purchasing the supplement himself, so he likely obtained it from a friend and may have been unaware of how concentrated it was, his father Nigel Foote, told the Blue Mountain Gazette.
“It’s just insane that something so dangerous is so readily available. Please warn your friends, talk to your children, and perhaps check your kitchen cupboards. Pure caffeine powder looks just like any other white powder, but a heaped teaspoon of it will kill you,” he said.
Despite the FDA crackdown, a search for “caffeine” on the website of one of the FDA-cited companies led to a page for “special customers only,” with an unspecified product available in orders of up to 5.5 pounds. The smallest size, 3.5 ounces, is advertised for $16.99. It contains 340 servings – roughly as much as 480 cups of coffee or 10 times a lethal dose.
The risk of caffeine can be be multiplied by other drugs, such as alcohol, that have a negative effect on your heart, lungs, and brain. Exercise also elevates your heart rate and breathing and can compound the side effects of caffeine, added Bonci, who specializes in sports nutrition.
Here’s how much caffeine you can safely consume in a week
Surprising ways that caffeine affects your body and brain
Here’s why caffeine is so addictive – and why it’s so hard to give it up
California coffee lovers, go ahead: keep on sipping.
The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) officially ruled on Monday that coffee isn’t connected to cancer in any meaningful way, despite what you may have heard. That means California coffee shops won’t be required to post a warning about any carcinogenic chemicals.
“After reviewing more than a thousand studies, we concluded that coffee consumption does not pose a significant cancer risk,” Sam Delson, a spokesman for the OEHHA, told Business Insider.
Last year, a California judge ruled that coffee sellers in California had to post cancer warnings wherever they serve the brew, largely due to the presence of a chemical called acrylamide, which forms when food items (like coffee beans) are roasted.
“We found coffee is a complex mixture of numerous chemicals that includes both known carcinogens but also some anti-carcinogens that protect against cancer, including antioxidants,” Delson said.
That is largely the same conclusion that the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reached in 2016. That agency determined that there’s not enough evidence to make any kind of conclusion about a link between coffee and cancer. In fact, the IARC said some data suggests coffee may lower your risk of developing certain kinds of cancer, like uterine and liver cancers. What’s more, the agency said coffee is “unlikely” to cause breast, prostate, or pancreas cancers.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took a similar stance last year, and said that a cancer warning for coffee drinkers “would be more likely to mislead consumers than to inform them.”
Coffee is a complex drink rich in antioxidants
The chemical that caused such a stir about a potential link between coffee and cancer – acrylamide – is produced any time ingredients are cooked at high heats (fried, baked, or roasted). That means acrylamide is also present in small doses in foods like french fries, baguettes, cookies, chips, and char-grilled items like marshmallows or sausages.
Acrylamide by itself is a known carcinogen. But the dose in coffee, which is tiny to the point of insignificance, doesn’t appear to be risky for people to drink. Plus, it’s paired with myriad other chemicals and nutrients in the brew.
Lots of evidence suggests drinking coffee can help people live long, caffeinated lives. One study followed half a million people in the UK for 10 years, and found that coffee drinkers there both lived longer and lowered their risk of early death by significant margins compared to people who didn’t consume coffee. Even coffee fiends who drank eight or more cups a day lowered their risk of death by about 14% compared to non-drinkers.
Similar large-scale studies linking coffee to longer lives have been repeated across the US and Europe. Coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in American diets (even though fruits and vegetables would provide a better cancer-fighting punch). Those antioxidants are known to help protect our bodies against the DNA damage that results in cancer.
- Getty Images/Justin Sullivan
What’s more, some past research on coffee drinkers’ health outcomes didn’t take into account the fact that many coffee drinkers were also smokers. (Smoking is responsible for more than 80% of all lung cancer cases, and lung cancer is the top cancer killer for both men and women.)
The benefits of drinking coffee
More recently, researchers have discovered that coffee drinkers may derive serious health benefits from the habit. These benefits include:
However, even some researchers who have found evidence of coffee’s benefits for heart health caution that some people who have been diagnosed with cancerous tumors may want to limit their intake. That’s because drinking coffee can make blood vessels larger, and thus feed more oxygen to tumors. Additionally, people who drink a lot of coffee – more than six cups a day – can quicken their heartbeats (not to mention having a higher chance of feeling jittery and anxious).
Still, the evidence we have to date overwhelmingly supports the idea that drinking coffee is good for one’s health. So if you like drinking a lot, there’s no reason to change your ways.
If anything, this week’s California reversal can be seen as another reminder that the ways cancer works inside the body are complex and not yet fully understood.
Delson said there’s still a chance that California may reverse course once again and require that businesses warn people about a link between coffee and cancer, since the OEHHA’s decisions are never final. But given the data thus far, he considers that is “highly unlikely.”
“This is a unique situation because we’re dealing with a complex mixture of hundreds of chemicals,” he said. “You know, nothing is 100% risk-free, but … I’m a cancer survivor myself, and happy to drink coffee.”
Some mornings it might feel like you can’t get enough of it, but a new study suggests too much coffee can be harmful.
Studies have found that coffee consumption “may help prevent several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes mellitus, Parkinson’s disease and liver disease”.
There is little evidence that drinking moderate amounts of coffee – three to four cups a day – poses any health risk.
The key words here are “moderate amounts”.
A new study from the University of South Australia suggests there is a point where drinking coffee becomes a health risk.
“Coffee is the most commonly consumed stimulant in the world – it wakes us up, boosts our energy and helps us focus – but people are always asking ‘How much caffeine is too much?’” Professor Elina Hypponen, one of the researchers, said in a press release.
Researchers at the university analysed the health records and self-reported coffee consumption of 347,077 people between the ages of 37 and 73 in the UK Biobank.
The Biobank is a national and international health resource with unparalleled research opportunities, open to all bona fide health researchers.
The study found that people who drink one to two cups of caffeinated coffee a day had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than people who drank decaf or no coffee at all.
But for individuals who consumed six or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day, the risk of cardiovascular disease increased 22%.
The researchers found no genetic cause for this increase.
This is the first time an upper limit has been placed on safe coffee consumption and cardiovascular health.
“In order to maintain a healthy heart and a healthy blood pressure, people must limit their coffees to fewer than six cups a day – based on our data, six was the tipping point where caffeine started to negatively affect cardiovascular risk,” Prof Hypponen said.
Even though the research says five cups of coffee is permissible, she said each person should know his or her own limit.
If you begin feeling jittery, irritable or nauseated, she said, you might have reached your limit for the day.
The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Tribune News Service
Can’t get through the day without a couple of cups of joe?
That might not be such a bad thing according to a new meta-analysis that suggests that drinking just two cups of coffee a day could increase life expectancy by up to two years.
For many years, scientists have been studying both the positive and negative effects of caffeine on the body.
A 2017 meta-analysis, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found that drinking three to four cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of death and developing heart disease, compared to drinking no coffee at all.
Coffee drinking was also associated with a lower risk of some cancers, diabetes, liver disease and dementia.
This latest meta-analysis, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology on May 8, 2019, has similar findings.
In this research, scientists analysed 40 previous studies exploring the link between coffee and mortality, including a total of 3,852,651 participants and 450,256 causes of death.
“As ageing, obesity and lifestyle factors affect the risk of mortality, the association between coffee and mortality needs to be examined in various subpopulations by characteristics of subjects,” the study authors explain.
Moderate coffee consumption of two to four cups per day was associated with reduced mortality, compared to no coffee consumption.
The study also found that the link between coffee and mortality was stronger in Europe and Asia than in the United States. – AFP Relaxnews
- Drinking two to four cups of coffee daily could potentially increase your lifespan.
- YakobchukOlena/ iStock
- A new study suggests that drinking at least two cups of coffee daily could decrease risk of death due to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
- A previous suggested that coffee has the opposite effect and actually increases risk of cancer, but other studies said coffee is good for mental health.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
If you feel like you can’t live without your daily cup of coffee, new research suggests your habit could actually help increase your lifespan.
In a meta-analysis published May 4 in European Journal of Epidemiology, researchers looked at over 3 million people from 40 previous studies and found that those who drank two or more cups of coffee daily had decreased risks of death.
The researchers analyzed previous studies from around the world that included information about people’s coffee drinking habits and their causes of death, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Researchers found that people who drank two and a half cups of coffee daily had a 17% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Those who drank four cups of coffee had a 24% lower risk of death from diabetes than people who didn’t drink any coffee. People who drank between two and two and a half cups of coffee had a 4% lower risk of death from cancer.
These findings held true regardless of the participants’ ages, sex, smoking status, weight, or the amount of caffeine in the coffee they drank.
Read more: A new study says skipping breakfast could increase your risk of dying early, but health experts aren’t convinced
The study did have some caveats. The people they analyzed could have inaccurately reported their daily coffee intake in their questionnaires, skewing the data. Additionally, some of the previous studies the researchers analyzed didn’t include information about the types of coffee people drank or substances like sugar and milk they may have added to the brew. These ingredients could have affected the results they found.
Past studies have suggested that coffee could increase cancer risk
The study’s findings differ from previous research that suggest coffee can increase cancer risk.
A preliminary study published in March 2019 found coffee and tea drinkers had increased risks for developing lung cancer regardless of whether they smoked or not.
The chemical acrylamide, which is found in coffee as a byproduct of the brewing process, has also been linked to cancer (it’s most likely not dangerous in the amounts found in coffee, though).
Other past research backs up the most recent findings about coffee and decreased risk of disease. One small study found that regular coffee drinkers were 16% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and another study of over 50,000 women found drinking at least one cup of Joe each week was associated with a 15% reduced risk for depression.
The conflicting findings of existing coffee studies mean more research needs to be done, but in the meantime you shouldn’t sweat your coffee habit or, if you can’t stand the stuff, try to incorporate it into your morning routine.