The Danger of Powdered Caffeine

By Charissa Echavez | Sep 06, 2015 09:08 PM EDT

On September 1, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to distributors on how their products like pure powdered caffeine, can be dangerous. It stated that their products pose "a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury to consumers."

On its website, the agency stated that "the difference between a safe amount and a toxic dose of caffeine in these pure powdered products is very small." In 2014, after the known death of two young men, the FDA issued a consumer advice to particularly address their concern on the widespread selling of pure powdered caffeine in bulk over the Internet. They claimed that a teaspoon of pure caffeine is equal to 28 cups of regular coffee.

A consumer advocacy group the Center of Science in the Public of Interest appealed to FDA to ban the retail selling of powdered caffeine. The ubiquity of caffeine in people's common drinks like tea and sodas make them think it is safe. Laura MacCleery, the organization's lawyer says, "it's the public misperception and familiarity with caffeine, which is something we think we know, that makes this product so dangerous in its current form."

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According to MacCleery, the comparison between caffeinated beverages and drinks containing pure caffeine "is like comparing a table knife and a table saw." Consumers of caffeinated products may experience less serious side effects like nervousness and tremors. However, consumption of an unregulated amount of pure powdered caffeine may result to serious side effects such as rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, seizures and death. Vomiting, diarrhea, stupor and disorientation are also signs and symptoms of caffeine toxicity.

The letter was given to Smartpowders, Purebulk, National Food Supplements, Hard Eight Nutrition and Bridge City Bulk.

The FDA website posted that "the companies have 15 business days from the date of receipt of the letter to communicate to the agency the specific sites they will take to bring their products into compliance with the law."

Jefferson Stratton, the CEO of Bridge City Bulk, responded through an email.  He said that the company had "immediately stopped selling the material" even though they have not received any products complaints ever.

It is unclear what actions the FDA would want these companies to take. However, they claimed to evaluate on a case-to-case basis. "We do not know how the market will respond to these warning letters and to the concerns that F.D.A. and others have expressed about the safety of pure powdered caffeine, so we cannot speak to whether or not products are coming off the market." 

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