Lethal doses of caffeine drinks explained

Thursday , August 21, 2014 - 4:03 PM

Ever wonder how many Diet Cokes it would take to kill you? Or how many Rockstar energy drinks? Or McDonald’s coffees?

There’s more or less an app for that.

Simply visit the website www.caffeineinformer.com and select “Death by Caffeine” from the top menu. Enter the name of the drink in question, your current weight and then click on “How much will kill me?” The site instantly calculates how many servings it would take to send you to that great beverage cart in the sky.

For example, for a person weighing 160 pounds:

• Type in “Death Wish Coffee” and the answer comes back, “You could drink 16.55 cups of Death Wish Coffee before croaking.”

• For Rockstar energy drink, the dose is quite a bit larger. “You’d kick the bucket after 68.25 cans of Rockstar.”

• And finally, Diet Coke: “It would take 242.67 cans of Diet Coke to put you down.”

Ted Kallmyer is a caffeine expert and content manager for the caffeineinformer.com website, based in San Diego. He says the site, which gets about a million hits a month, is dedicated to educating people about caffeine — both its health dangers and benefits. Caffeine and caffeinated energy drinks have been linked to several deaths in recent years.

“We just want to raise awareness of caffeine and what it does to the body, and the whole addictive nature,” Kallmyer said in a recent telephone interview with the Standard-Examiner. “Also, to teach people what a safe amount of caffeine is.”

Of course, that “safe amount” isn’t easily determined, since it’s based on any number of factors — including body weight and an individual’s sensitivity to caffeine.

“We really try to stress moderation, and then also give specific guidelines of what moderation would be,” he said. “Some people can be highly sensitive to caffeine, other people can have a larger dose and hardly feel any effects at all.”

What’s more, most people develop a tolerance for caffeine fairly quickly, so it takes increasing amounts to achieve the desired effect.

“In fact, after a couple of days of consuming caffeine, that euphoric feeling of alertness starts to wear off, and eventually coffee just keeps us at a state of feeling normal,” Kallmyer said. “So we don’t feel normal unless we have our caffeine, but it’s not really taking us to that next level of alertness like it used to.”

Kallmyer calls it all “one big, addictive cycle.” Without caffeine, regular users undergo withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and feelings of lethargy.

“Some people are consuming 9 or 10 cups of coffee a day, because you just gradually increase your dosage to get this feeling of euphoria that it once delivered but no longer does,” he said. “It just gets out of control.”

The lethal dose for caffeine is in the neighborhood of 150 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (one kilogram equals roughly 2.2 pounds). While the average person’s caffeine consumption is around 200 milligrams a day, the Mayo Clinic advises against exceeding 500 to 600 milligrams per day. Kallmyer says dosages in the one- to two-gram range can be fatal for many adults.

“It’s so funny,” Kallmyer adds. “Even though that’s the lethal dosage, there’s so many other things in that product or drink that will kill you before the caffeine actually would. Like, just the pure amount of liquid, or the sugar amount, would send someone into shock.”

So then, what’s the most our caffeine expert has ever ingested in one 24-hour period? Once upon a time — long before he worked for caffeineinformer.com — Kallmyer says he had a few coffees, and followed those up with a couple of handfuls of chocolate-covered espresso beans.

“Needless to say, I was awake all night listening to the sound of my heartbeat,” he said. “I probably had close to 1,000 milligrams of caffeine in all.”

For those who want to cut back on their caffeine use, slow and gradual is the way to go, according to caffeine experts.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, I’ll just go cold turkey,’ and that’s probably not a wise idea because the symptoms can be pretty severe,” Kallmyer said. “We recommend just gradually stepping down your dosage.”

Kallmyer says the most-caffeinated products are found in the United States because it has the least restrictive caffeine regulations. But he also expects that to change in the next year or two as the Food and Drug Administration looks at setting limits for certain caffeinated beverages.

“I’d say in the next year or two they’ll have more defined guidelines of how much caffeine can be in things like energy drinks,” he said.

Children and teenagers are more susceptible to a caffeine overdose. This is partly because they don’t have the experience to understand how caffeine is affecting their young bodies. And they sometimes have underlying health issues — like heart problems — that haven’t been diagnosed yet.

Kallmyer says parents need to be proactive, and talk to their children about things like energy drinks.

“I would say, ‘Parents, be aware of what your kids are drinking and spending their money on,’ ” he said.

Kallmyer said it’s important to note that caffeinated products themselves aren’t evil.

“I think the media, a lot of times, villainizes energy drinks,” he said. “They’re not evil, but we do need to look at how they’re marketed, and who their target audiences are.”

And, Kallmyer advises folks to be informed consumers.

“Understand what you’re drinking, and what that product has the potential to do to your body, and make your decision based on that,” he said.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.

Here’s a sampling of various drinks and their caffeine content, in milligrams:

Chameleon Cold Brew Coffee, 32 oz. — 2,160 mg

Death Wish Coffee, 12 oz. — 660 mg

Spike Energy Drink, 16 oz. — 350 mg

Starbucks Grande Coffee, 16 oz. — 330 mg

Redline Energy Drink, 8 oz. — 316 mg

Jolt Energy Drink, 23.5 oz. — 280 mg

Seattle’s Best Brewed Coffee, 12 oz. — 260 mg

Baskin-Robbins Cappucino Blast, 24 oz. — 234 mg

Einstein Bros. Coffee, 16 oz. — 206 mg

McDonald’s Iced Coffee, 22 oz. — 200 mg

NOS Energy Drink, 16 oz. — 160 mg

Monster Energy Drink, 16 oz. — 160 mg

Full Throttle Energy Drink, 16 oz. — 160 mg

Rockstar Energy Drink, 16 oz. — 160 mg

SodaStream, 16 oz. — 160 mg

McDonald’s Coffee, 16 oz. — 145 mg

AMP Energy Drink, 16 oz. — 142 mg

Mountain Dew Game Fuel, 20 oz. — 121 mg

Red Bull, 8.46 oz. — 80 mg

Mountain Dew, 12 oz. — 54.8 mg

Mello Yello, 12 oz. — 49.5 mg

Lipton Iced Tea, 20 oz. — 48 mg

Diet Coke, 12 oz. — 46.3 mg

RC Cola, 12 oz. — 45.2 mg

Shasta Cola, 12 oz. — 42.9 mg

Dr. Pepper, 12 oz. — 42.6 mg

Snapple Tea, 16 oz. — 42 mg

Sunkist, 12 oz. — 40.6 mg

Pepsi, 12 oz. — 38.9 mg

Coca-Cola, 12 oz. — 33.9 mg

A&W Cream Soda, 12 oz. — 28.6 mg

Barq’s Root Beer, 12 oz. — 22.4 mg

Arby’s Jamocha Shake, 16 oz. — 12 mg

(Source: www.caffeineinformer.com; as reported by manufacturers and Auburn University lab tests)

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