Coffee cup illustrationIt’s the Fall. With this season comes the return of cable knit sweaters, closed toed shoes, pumpkin spice, and early mornings as school starts again. Oh those early mornings! Getting up for school is hard and teens may be tempted to use some outside help to not only wake up in the mornings, but to stay up late to finish homework projects. One substance that is making headlines (again) is caffeine. It’s in our coffee, tea, chocolate milk. Adults use this substance quite a lot (just look at all the coffee carts, cafes, & break rooms that are bustling by 8am!) and companies have found a new way to supply consumers with their daily fix of the substance. Unfortunately, the new product can be dangerous.

Powdered caffeine comes in concentrations much higher than a cup of coffee or an energy drink. In fact, a teaspoon of powdered caffeine can equal about 25 cups of coffee! The danger in this is that the difference between a ‘pick me up’ and a lethal dose of caffeine is very narrow. Teens may be tempted to turn to powdered forms to get a quick energy boost and they may consume a little extra than what’s recommended on the packaging which can lead to significant consequences. A death of a teen was made public after he consumed too much. The FDA is sending warning letters to 5 companies that manufacture powdered caffeine products that the serving sizes on the labels is misleading (1/4 teaspoon = 574 miligrams of caffeine but the serving size is 200 miligrams).

Warning signs of caffeine overdose:

  • Rapid, irregular heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • stupor/disorientation

So what can parents do?

  • Do not allow your teen to use powdered caffeine at all. The FDA advises consumers avoid pure powdered caffeine and states, “It is nearly impossible to accurately measure pure powdered caffeine with common kitchen measuring tools and you can easily consume a lethal amount.”
  • Avoid offering your teen caffeine (such as coffee or tea) to start the day. Caffeine is a chemical substance and we still don’t understand exactly how it may impact your teen’s developing brain. Instead, opt for a solid breakfast!
  • Encourage good sleep habits. Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep every night. Avoid electronics within the hour before going to bed, have a routine, and encourage your teen to get up and go to bed around the same time each day.
  • Make sure they understand the difference betweeen a serving size (which is actually the amount a typical person consumes in one sitting NOT a recommended serving) and too much. This is true for serving sizes of both foods and beverages. For powdered caffeine, the difference in 1/4 teaspoon can be deadly.