January 2024

Caffeine Safety Back in the Spotlight

A 21-year-old college student recently passed away after drinking a “Charged Lemonade” drink from Panera Bread. She had long QT syndrome, putting her at increased risk for arrhythmia following caffeine consumption. Attorneys for her parents are now arguing that Panera didn’t properly disclose caffeine content. This is a good time to remind patients about caffeine safety – how much is too much, and what types of products should be avoided entirely?

According to the FDA, consuming up to 400 mg of caffeine daily isn’t linked to serious safety concerns for healthy adults. This is about the amount of caffeine found in 4 cups of coffee. A variety of caffeine-related FDA safety warnings have been issued over the years, but products with misleading labels or improper disclosures remain a concern, particularly for people with sensitivity. In the case of the Panera drink, 30 fl ounces of “Charged Lemonade” contained up to 390 mg of caffeine, nearing what can safely be consumed in one day in adults with no sensitivity. Panera Bread has since issued a warning about this drink.

Advise patients with a sensitivity to caffeine to watch out for claims that a product is “charged” or “boosted” or any marketing buzzwords that suggest a drink will increase energy. It’s best to stay on the safe side and avoid use of these – even if it’s not obvious that a product contains caffeine, there’s a chance it does. For patients without caffeine concerns, remind them to be leery of energy drinks and to read labels closely – sometimes one container contains multiple serving sizes and therefore much more caffeine than at first glance. And remind all patients that only the amount of ADDED caffeine must be stated on product labels. The amount of caffeine from caffeine-containing natural ingredients such as coffee or green tea does not need to be disclosed.

Beverages without proper warnings are just one of several safety issues swirling around the caffeine product market today. Keep an eye out for a snortable caffeine powder product called “want a BUMP?” that’s now getting some attention. Tell patients to avoid these types of products due to serious safety concerns. Also remind patients about the risks of pure and very concentrated caffeine powders when taken by mouth. Because of the high risk for misuse, the FDA made selling these products to consumers in bulk illegal a few years ago – accidentally taking too much can be deadly.

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