Just when you’re about to take a sip of your daily cuppa – for the morning boost – while you browse through the daily news from your computer screen: you spot a news headline that reads, “an American teenager in South Carolina passed away after allegedly consuming many highly caffeinated drinks very quickly”. Cup down, eyes wide open, while the thought of “now, drinking coffee kills?” echoes in your head.

Prior to this, caffeine consumption has always been a matter of contention, with many people all around the world consuming caffeine in one way or another on a daily basis. While not as dependent as the nature of alcohol or tobacco, many rely on caffeine to get though the day owing to caffeine’s nature as a stimulant.

Caffeine: How much is too much?

Davis Allen Cripe, a 16 year old high school student, collapsed after drinking a latte, large soft drink and an energy drink all within the course of two hours. He was later found to have passed away with the reported cause of death being a “caffeine-induced cardiac event causing a probable arrhythmia”. Prior to this, Davis was a healthy young man with no pre-existing heart conditions.

For now, the coroner is ruling out caffeine overdose as the sole cause of death as the information was only picked up following additional information provided by friends and family of the victim. While caffeine consumption in teenagers is not unusual, the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) has warned against children and teenagers consuming energy drinks.

How much caffeine should one consume?

According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the recommended safe limit for adults is 400mg or caffeine per day. Naturally, the limit is lower for children (3mg/kg) and pregnant women (200mg/day). Common sources of caffeine intake include tea, coffee, soft drinks, chocolate and, as of late, energy drinks.

In adults, the most common source of caffeine remains to be drinks, such as tea and coffee. In children and teenagers, the common sources of caffeine are generally soft drinks and chocolates. The reduced caffeine content of soft drinks and chocolate were of generally no concern with regards to consumption in children. However, the recent surge of popularity in energy drinks amongst teenagers has raised several concerns due to their high caffeine content.

Caffeine overdose

Many adults often consume too much caffeine – but are unaware of the side effects that caffeine has. Owing to its nature as a stimulant, caffeine is able to stimulate the central nervous system, making its user more alert and awake.

Caffeine can also cause several unwanted side effects which come with the over-stimulation of the central nervous system. These side effects include headaches, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, restlessness, stomach upset, quickening heartbeat and muscle tremors.

Consumption of caffeine within the normal safe limits is usually acceptable with minimal side effects. In fact, even consumption above the safe 400mg limits is unlikely to yield any significant health problems.

The problem arises with rapid consumption, as caffeine takes hours to be cleared out from our system. Rapid ingestion stock piles the caffeine concentration within our bodies to unsafe levels, consequently causing extreme variants of each side effect, most notably heart problems.

For most individuals, an occurrence such as this is unlikely to occur. However, a tolerance towards caffeine can be developed. Just like any other stimulant, a greater amount is required to generate an equal effect after each usage. This leads to an unconscious, yet gradual increase in caffeine intake which soon surpasses the safe limit.

Moving forward

While this incident may cast a grim shadow over caffeine consumption, one really should not worry excessively. Caffeine just like every other food or drink should be enjoyed responsibly, as too much of a good thing can often be a bad thing.

Moreover, caffeine’s nature as a stimulant and its ability to affect heart rhythmicity means the possible side effects should never be underestimated. For now, it is safest to abide by the 400mg safe limit while avoiding rapid consumption. After all, better to be safe than sorry. MIMS

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