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Powdered caffeine now on the radar of state, federal health officials

At this time of the year, it's not just high school classrooms and hallways that are once again bustling with activity, but athletic fields, weight rooms and locker rooms as well. That's because students are embarking on seasons in football, soccer and cross-country, while others are busy training for their respective winter or spring activities.

While the dedication of these teen athletes is certainly admirable, it's important to note that many of them are now looking for an edge beyond just running harder or lifting more. Indeed, many are looking to so-called dietary supplements that are marketed as boosting performance, raising energy levels or even assisting with weight loss.

Unfortunately, recent reports show that many teens are now using a supplement that has been linked by the National Poison Data System to 30 illnesses -- including several here in California -- and at least one death.

The supplement in question is powdered caffeine, which is typically sold over the Internet and is subject to no real regulation.

The primary problem with powdered caffeine, say experts, is that it is incredibly concentrated and therefore very difficult to measure accurately (one serving typically equals only a sixteenth of a teaspoon). This is problematic because teens, who may be creating energy shakes using large amounts of other ingredients, may simply neglect to read the label or measure accurately, figuring caffeine is safe given its presence in coffee, soda, etc.

While this is typically true when it comes to these beverages, experts say that just one teaspoon of the powdered caffeine is the equivalent of 25 cups of coffee, and that caffeine toxicity can result in irregular heartbeats, seizures and even death.

"It's like going to buy firecrackers and someone handing you a stick of dynamite," said one poison control official. "This is frighteningly dangerous. You can't have 16- and 17-year-olds buying something off the Internet and playing with dynamite."

The good news is that powdered caffeine is now on the radar of many state poison control centers, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning to consumers to avoid what it calls a dangerous product and is mulling further regulatory action. In fact, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is now calling on the agency to use its authority to ban the product from the market altogether.

Stay tuned for developments ...

In the meantime, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you or a loved one has been injured by what you believe to be a dangerous or defective product.

Source: USA Today, "Concerns raised about dangers of powdered caffeine," Laura Ungar, Sept. 16, 2014

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