A caffeine supplement that was so concentrated that it delivered the equivalent of up to 50 cups of coffee in one serving is being blamed for the death of an Australian man on New Year’s Eve 2017.
According to the Blue Mountain Gazette in New South Wales, the parents of 21-year-old Lachlan Foote, who was supposed to celebrate his 22nd birthday the following day, originally suspected his death was caused by a protein shake their son ingested before going to bed.
Foote had been out drinking with friends and told someone via a Facebook message he thought something was wrong with the powder he used to make it.
“I think my protein powder has gone off. Just made an anti hangover / workout shake and it tasted awful,” he wrote.
When asked “how?” Foote responded, “Dunno, was kinda bitter though… anyway night lads.”
“Morning never came for Lachlan,” his father, Nigel, wrote in a Facebook post. “We found him, dead and cold on the bathroom floor (New Year’s Day 2018)… the day before his 22nd birthday.”
As it turns out, the killer wasn’t the protein shake, but it had been hiding in the pantry all along.
The coroner found that a lethal dose of concentrated caffeine powder had been added by Lachlan to the drink, either by accident or intentionally.
“Dawn and I have finally received the Coroner’s findings regarding Lachlan – he died of ‘caffeine toxicity’ (not from a dodgy batch of protein powder as we had first thought). There was nothing else in his system except a small amount of alcohol (.043),” Foote wrote in the post.
“It turns out that Lachlan came home after celebrating New Year’s Eve with his friends and made a protein shake, innocently adding too much (caffeine powder) – a teaspoon is lethal (the equivalent of 25-50 coffees).”
Death by caffeine intoxication is unusual in normal circumstances, according to the news website Insider, but dietician Leslie Bonci told the outlet it can happen with as little as 1,500 milligrams of caffeine. That’s roughly about 10-15 cups of coffee, more than most people would drink.
At that level, an irregular heartbeat, vomiting and low blood pressure could cause unconsciousness or death.
However, Bonci said, the amount of caffeine in supplements is “just ridiculously high” and can hit your system in a dangerous way.
“The amount is so concentrated, and you don’t have anything to dilute it,” Bonci said. “There’s nothing to slow down the absorption, and the brain is going to feel that caffeine a lot faster.”
The powder can also be difficult to measure without a scale and with varying purities.
The caffeine powder is legal in both the United States and in Australia. However, at least here, the Food and Drug Administration has expressed concern about the substance, having sent warning letters to two companies last year for selling caffeine in concentrations that were illegally high.
In one of those cases, the caffeine was measured at 3,200 milligrams per teaspoon, which could be as much as 30 cups of coffee. Two deaths in the United States have been attributed to the caffeine powder, according to Insider.
Lachlan likely didn’t know the potency of the caffeine powder, since he probably didn’t purchase it himself, his father wrote.
“We think Lachlan obtained the caffeine powder from a friend or work associate as a thorough search of his computer and bank statements, by both myself and the police, revealed no mention of caffeine powder, only related protein powder products,” Foote wrote in the Facebook post.
“Therefore, it appears the pure caffeine powder was bought by someone else and shared, so it’s very likely that Lachlan never got to read the warning label on the packet and was unaware of its potency.
“And the fact that he kept the caffeine powder in our kitchen pantry (where one of us might have mistaken it for flour or sugar) proves the point – Lachlan would never have kept it there had he known it was a threat to the family. He was a bright, imaginative young man.”
Foote told Australia’s 7 News that he wants the pure, powdered form of the drug banned.
“We want to warn people about the dangers of pure caffeine powder before someone else dies — it’s only a matter of time,” he told.
“We hope to raise enough public awareness to have the product taken off the market or highly regulated.”
Like many potentially lethal, but legal, products, this is clearly a substance that needs to be handled with care. A digital scale is likely required to meter out appropriate doses and all of the appropriate warning labels should be read. It needs to be kept safe, out of the way of children or teenagers. Most importantly, it needs to be accurately labeled.
What you don’t know really can hurt you.
In his Facebook post, Nigel thanked the coroner’s office for finding out exactly what killed his son.
“It has been an excruciating wait for the Coroner’s findings, but the love and support we have received from our family, friends and this fabulous Blue Mountains community has seen us through. We can never thank you enough,” he wrote.
“The investigation is finally over and we are not left wondering what exactly happened to Lachie any more – we now know. The original autopsy revealed caffeine but not the precise levels, so another, more specialised test had to be done, hence the delay. The Coroner’s forensic team and counselling staff have been wonderful.”
He wrote that he didn’t harbor anger toward whoever gave their son the deadly powder, either.
“We bear no ill feeling toward whoever shared the caffeine powder with Lachlan as we’re sure this was just a tragic, innocent mistake,” Foote wrote.
A mistake that hopefully no one else makes.
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