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Caffeine overdose can be lethal

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Wednesday Nov 20, 2013 (foodconsumer.org) -- The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology has recently published a case report on fatal caffeine overdose and a review of literature to alert food consumers to the danger of high doses of stimulant caffeine.

According to the report by S. B. Jabbar and M. G. Hanly from the Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia, a 39-year old man self-ingested about 12 grams of caffeine anhydrous and died.  Autopsy blood caffeine levels were found at 350 mg/L.

The dose of caffeine that killed the man is almost the median lethal death (LD50) 190 mg/kg  in rats.  For humans, the LD50 is estimated at 150 to 200 mg/kg depending upon individual sensitivity.  Relatively lower doses can lead to caffeine intoxication characterized by symptoms including "restlessness, fidgeting, anxiety, excitement, insomnia, flushing of the face, increased urination, gastrointestinal disturbance, muscle twitching, a rambling flow of thought and speech, irritability, irregular or rapid heart beat, and psychomotor agitation."

In the case of large doses, people may experience "mania, depression, lapses in judgment, disorientation, disinhibition, delusions, hallucinations, or psychosis may occur, and rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue) can be provoked."

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and many people consume it on a routine basis in the form of coffee or tea.  The dose of caffeine from tea and coffee could rarely reach the lethal overdose level.   But pure caffeine or high caffeine found in sports drinks is often used by people who are interested in bodybuilding and potential health benefits because this dietary supplement is often considered a fitness and muscle building aid in the health and fitness community.

The authors "recommend mandated labeling of pure caffeine anhydrous, highlighting the toxicity risk of ingesting this chemical; and we recommend ensuring that caffeine levels are included in the comprehensive forensic toxicology panel performed on all cases." (David Liu, PHD)

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