Too much caffeine & the beat of your heart

The number of ER visits linked to energy drinks skyrocketed in recent years. Worse yet, new reports link several energy products with unexpected deaths in healthy young people.

As usual, the FDA has been doing very little about it.

But make no mistake about it…excessive caffeine can kill you. Just ask my colleagues, the Medical Examiners, forensic scientists, and toxicologists. They determine the cause and manner of sudden, unexpected deaths.

In fact, Swedish researchers recently determined just how much caffeine it takes to kill you.

In Sweden, Medical Examiners perform about 5,000 forensic autopsies each year. One percent of deaths there have caffeine levels in the blood higher than 10 micrograms per milliliter (ug/ml). By comparison, drinking a single cup of standard brew coffee results in peak caffeine levels of 1 to 2 ug/ml.

Over 16 years, Swedish MEs found 20 cases with caffeine levels over 80 ug/ml. The MEs consider this a lethal dose. And 12 of the patients died of caffeine intoxication. In most of the cases, it resulted from fatal arrhythmias.

Have no doubt about it…too much caffeine can kill you.

It can also cause a rapid heartbeat, an irregular heartbeat, and heart palpitations. Excess caffeine can also cause insomnia, sleep disturbances, diuresis (fluid loss and dehydration), and high blood sugar.

The time element is critical…

Over a brief period, three to 10 grams of caffeine can turn lethal. To get to this level, you have to consume about 12 servings in a short period. But remember, as I told you yesterday, many energy drink cans contain more than one serving. So you can easily get into dangerous territory after just three or four energy drinks. Plus, when you don’t know how much caffeine you’re drinking, or you combine it with alcohol or another stimulant, you can get into real trouble real fast.

 Normally, your body begins to metabolize and eliminate caffeine within 15 to 45 minutes. But this can’t happen as quickly when you combine caffeinated energy drinks with alcohol. Or when you drink can after can of the stuff.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should not consume energy drinks. Adolescents should not have more than 100 mg of caffeine per day. That’s what you’ll find in one cup of coffee, three soft drinks, or less than one energy drink.

Adults should limit their caffeine intake to 500 mg day. That’s means you’re safe drinking up to five cups of coffee a day. That should be more than enough, really. Who has that much time for coffee breaks anyway, unless you work for the government? But that makes for only two energy drinks. Just remember, you’ll often find two servings in one can!

Sources: JAMA. 2013;309(3):297. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.170614.

Viewpoint JAMA. 2013;309(3):245-246. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.187978.