Last month, 16-year-old Davis Allen Cripe collapsed in class because of ingesting too much caffeine. The fatal event, likely caused by arrhythmia, took place after the South Carolina teen drank a cafe latte, a large Diet Mountain Dew, and an energy drink in a span of two hours.
But how much caffeine is enough to send you to the grave?
Intoxicated With Caffeine
Health experts are quick to warn about the dangers of consuming high amounts of caffeine, including irritability, restlessness, insomnia, fast heartbeat, nervousness, and muscle tremors. Other signs of overdose on the substance are irregular heartbeat, diarrhea, seizures, and disorientation.
Davis’ is not the first documented case of death from excess caffeine intake. In Japan, a young man in his 20s died in 2015 from the same apparent reason, where he took huge amounts of caffeine-laced soda to stay awake for his round-the-clock gas station shift.
The average person consuming a cup or two of coffee, however, has nothing much to worry about.
"Most people can safely take in about 400 milligrams of caffeine daily or about [four] cups of coffee," emergency physician Robert Glatter of New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital said.
It’s important to note, however, that the limit is largely individualized. Among adults, it’s not typical to experience caffeine intoxication at 2.5 cups or less than 250 milligrams. It would usually take over 12 ounces, with negative effects already manifesting at higher than 500 milligrams of caffeine, explained postdoc research fellow Maggie Sweeney.
Speed Of Intake And Mixing Substances
Glatter explained that at 500 milligrams, one would already begin to feel jittery and agitated, as well as nauseous. He noted that some people are also more sensitive to caffeine than others, advising everyone to know their threshold and be very careful around how much to take in.
The doctor added that while it could take anywhere from 50 to 100 coffee cups to get a lethal caffeine dose, pure powdered caffeine can prove deadly enough with a teaspoon consumed at once.
How quickly one takes caffeine is also a factor. Rapid consumption of high caffeine amounts can start to up one’s heart problem risks, where a study of more than 100 coronary heart disease patients showed that drinking 10 cups of coffee every day enhanced the odds of sudden cardiac arrest over 50 fold.
It’s crucial to note, however, that Cripe had no known heart issue.
It could be that mixing different caffeine sources figured as a problem, just as combining energy drinks and alcohol can increase alcohol poisoning risk.
“The risk of alcohol poisoning increases as people consume more alcohol because they feel the caffeine will keep them awake and alert," Glatter said.
Another reason to control one’s energy drink intake: sugar, used as part of marketing techniques to mask the caffeine in the product. Recent research has also linked energy drink intake to irregular heartbeats and elevated blood pressure.
But is it time for parents to worry about their kids drinking soda or energy drinks? Probably not, as the real lesson lies in moderation, Sweeney reminded.