Bodybuilders everywhere will tell you the benefits of caffeine, whether it’s found in a cup of coffee or pre-workout. But too much of the stuff can be harmful. And as a grieving Australian father pointed out in a now-viral Facebook status, it can even be deadly.
Nigel Foote, of Blackheath, New South Wales, is calling for pure caffeine powder to be banned in his country after his son, Lachlan, died from caffeine toxicity when he seemingly added too much of the substance to his protein shake.
Although Lachlan died on New Year’s Day 2018, a day before his 22nd birthday, the coroner only just confirmed the cause of death as caffeine toxicity. The family originally thought his protein powder had gone bad, Nigel said. The only other substance found in his system was alcohol (he had a .043 BAC).
According to his father, Lachlan made a protein shake after celebrating New Year’s and added too much pure caffeine powder to the drink—the exact amount is unknown. Nigel said it appears his son bought the powder from a friend, as his bank statements showed no mention of caffeine powder.
“Therefore, it appears the pure caffeine powder was bought by someone else and shared, so it’s very likely that Lachlan never got to read the warning label on the packet and was unaware of its potency,” Nigel wrote.
Although it has its place in the bodybuilding world, even small amounts of pure caffeine powder can be deadly. On its website, the Food and Drug Administration states a teaspoon of it contains the same amount of caffeine as 28 cups of coffee—seven times the daily amount recommended by The Mayo Clinic.
The side effects of caffeine toxicity include rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, haziness, disorientation, and, most notably, death. There have been two deaths linked to caffeine powder, according to the FDA.
Lachlan complained about the taste of the shake, according to a text message exchange shared by his father, whose Facebook post you can see here:
It’s also not known why Lachlan was using the powder—whether for weight loss or improved muscle contraction. Nigel is calling for caffeine powder to be banned by the New South Wales Food Authority and Food Standards Australia New Zealand. He says the product has been banned in America, but that’s not exactly true.
The FDA monitors products’ caffeine levels and, in some cases, has issued violations against producers who add dangerous amounts to their products.
In April 2018, the agency released a guidance letter to companies that manufacture, market, or distribute supplements containing highly concentrated caffeine, in which it says bulk containers of caffeine powder could be dangerous because it’s hard (almost impossible) to measure the recommended serving (1/64 to 1/16 of a teaspoon) from such a large container.
In those cases, the FDA could deem a product illegal under federal food safety law. However, it says such products could be permissible if sufficiently diluted in water.