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Health officials see influx of caffeine overdoses

By Paul Nelson | Posted - Jun 20th, 2013 @ 7:46am

SALT LAKE CITY — People track the amount of pain and cold medicines they take, but health officials are concerned by the lack of tracking when it comes to caffeine intake.

Some people can't get started without their morning dose of caffeine. Whether it comes from soda or a cup of coffee, a lot of people have to have their fix to function.

However, there is an array of different ways to get caffeine — energy gum, energy drinks, caffeinated waffles with caffeinated maple syrup and caffeinated Cracker Jack, to name a few. There are even workout pants laced with caffeine.

With the influx of all these new ways to get caffeine, officials with the Utah Poison Control Center say they're seeing an uptick in the amount of overdoses from caffeine.

"These are real overdoses," said Marty Malheiro, outreach education coordinator at the center. "These aren't people that are a little bit jittery."

Malheiro said people are calling in with chest pains, heart palpitations or they've been throwing up, violently. She said one of the reasons is because people really don't keep track of how much caffeine they take in.

"The amount of stimulants that anyone takes into their body is really ambiguous," Malheiro said.


Even if people look at the nutrition facts of these energy drinks, Malheiro said they might not be looking closely enough at the serving size.

"The majority of the energy drinks, themselves, are two servings," she said. "So, you're getting a double dose right off the bat."

In addition to not heeding serving sizes, caffeine sources aren't always clearly listed on the label.

"You have Guarana, yerba mate, cacao and other natural sources of caffeine that are in there that are not well described to their content," said Barbara Insley Crouch, executive director of the Poison Control Center.

Crouch said the stimulant may also be in over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements, and, if people don't realize how much of it they're taking in, it could cause some pretty big problems.

"In high enough doses, in individuals who are predisposed, it can cause seizures," she said.

However, if people just stuck with their soda or their coffees, they would likely be fine. Crouch said the way people sip coffee slowly may make it safer than energy drinks.

"My peak concentration isn't going to be as high as somebody who takes a can of an energy drink that has the same amount of caffeine and powers it down," she said.

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