• Author:
    Betty Kovacs Harbolic, MS, RD

    Betty is a Registered Dietitian who earned her B.S. degree in Food and Nutrition from Marymount College of Fordham University and her M.S. degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She is the Co-Director and Director of nutrition for the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Can you consume too much caffeine?

The amount of caffeine a product contains is not listed on the food label. If there were any dangers to consuming too much caffeine the law would require that the amount be listed, right? Unfortunately, this is a case in which the law hasn't caught up with reality.

We are consuming more caffeine than ever and the number of products that contain caffeine continues to grow. It used to be that coffee, tea, and cola were the only places where we got our caffeine. Now it's in supplements, medications, gum, candy, and energy drinks. People are reaching for their jolt of caffeine like they used to reach for their cigarette. We all eventually learned the truth about cigarettes and we are slowly learning the truth about excess amounts of caffeine.

The DSM-IV lists caffeine intoxication as a clinical syndrome. Caffeine intoxication is described by the following: recent consumption of caffeine and five or more symptoms that develop during, or shortly after, caffeine use including restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, flushed face, diuresis, and gastrointestinal complaints. People who do not consume caffeine regularly have a higher risk of this, but anyone who consumed more then what their body is used to or can handle is at risk.

Beyond intoxication there is death from "massive" doses of caffeine. A fatal dose for adults has been shown to be more than 10 grams, which would be drinking 80-100 cups of coffee in rapid succession. That may seem unlikely to happen, but there is now at least one report of death from too much caffeine. A British man died after consuming caffeine powder at a party. The spoonfuls that he consumed were equal to consuming 70 energy drinks. The only "warning" that I found on one of these caffeine powders is "limit the use of caffeine-containing medications, foods or beverages while taking this product because too much caffeine may cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness and occasionally rapid heartbeat. Do not give to children under 12 years of age. In case of accidental overdose, seek professional assistance or contact a poison control center immediately." On one online advertisement for a supplement, they actually brag about the fact that "one package of this product contains more caffeine than: 1,000 cups of coffee, 1,800 cans of Mountain Dew, 1,200 Red Bull Energy Drinks, or 4,000 cans of Coca-Cola Classic."

The reality is that it is possible to consume too much caffeine, and too much can mean death. The law needs to recognize this and require the caffeine content be listed on every product with a warning label about the dangers of consuming excess amounts.

Caffeine Quiz: Test Your Medical IQ

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