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Posted on: July 21, 2019 at 8:45 am

On New Year’s Day, Lachlan was found dead in his home in New South Wales, Australia after consuming one teaspoon of caffeine powder in his protein shake.

At first, rumors said the 21-year-old guitarist’s demise was due to an illicit drug overdose, but that idea was quickly dismissed when the family received the coroner’s report. 

Lachlan had died of caffeine toxicity. The pathologist confirmed that the tests contained no illicit substances; Lachlan had only drank a few beers that night to celebrate New Year’s Eve with his friends.

One teaspoon of caffeine powder he used was the energy equivalent of 50 cups of coffee. That’s enough to send any consumer into cardiac arrest. The recommended dose of the product is normally one-sixteenth of a teaspoon. It’s marketed toward athletes and fitness enthusiasts as a stimulant to boost their workouts. It’s also popular as a diet supplement. It’s also popular with college students and shift workers to help give them an extra boost. 

It’s unclear how Lachlan got the substance. The police and his family searched his computer and bank statements and found nothing. 

“We think Lachlan obtained the caffeine powder from a friend or work associate,” Nigel Foote, his father, says. “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.

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“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.”

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The last message his friends ever received from Lachlan was a Facebook text the night he died at 2:07 am. 

I think my protein powder has gone off, he wrote. Anyway… night lads. Cya in the morning.

According to Nigel, the next morning, his family found Lachlan “dead and cold on the bathroom floor [on] New Year’s Day, 2018… the day before his 22nd birthday.” [1]

Urging the Caffeine Powder Ban

Although pure caffeine powder was banned in the United States last year after it was linked to at least 2 deaths, however, it’s still legal and available in Australia.

One of the American victims was Logan Stiner. He was a champion wrestler, exemplary student, and popular among his peers and his hometown of LaGrange. He died a few days before his high school graduation. He bought the fatal product online on Amazon, and like many other wrestlers and athletes, mixed it in his protein shakes.

“As long as I live, I will hunt that stuff down,” his mother Kate Stiner told the local media after his death.

Lachlan’s family is petitioning for Australia to ban the substance as well. 

“It’s just insane that something so dangerous is so readily available,” says Nigel. “Please warn your friends, talk to your children and perhaps check your kitchen cupboards. Pure caffeine powder looks just like any other white powder, but a heaped teaspoon of it will kill you.” [2]

What is Caffeine Toxicity?

Caffeine is a popular substance that seems to fuel the Western world. A person can’t walk through a major city in the U.S.A. with seeing coffee shops on every other street corner. 

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Since coffee and energy drinks are so common and accessible, most people are unaware that too much of the substance is toxic.

Signs of caffeine overdose include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Chest pain
  • Irregular or fast heartbeat
  • Uncontrollable muscle movements
  • Convulsions

In the case of these symptoms, contact medical treatment immediately. [3]

How Much Caffeine is Unhealthy?

Even when a person consumes not enough caffeine to be fatal, it can still lead to:

  • Jittery behavior
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • A racing pulse
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach cramps
  • diarrhea

Every person reacts to the stimulant differently. Some people drink one small cup of coffee and experience some of these extreme symptoms. Others need three just to feel awake. Children are susceptible to these negative effects and can react with seizures in extreme cases. [4]

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Consuming too much caffeine throughout the day can be dangerous. It creates a rapid pulse and high blood pressure, which can worsen a predisposition to heart disease. 

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the daily intake of 400 mg of caffeine is unlikely to pose serious harm to most adults’ health. This could typically be four cups of coffee, ten cans of soda, or two energy drinks, but there is a wide variation of caffeine content among different brands. [5]

How to Reduce Caffeine Intake

Lochlan’s case may have been rare, as it takes such a high amount of caffeine to be deadly. In this case only obtainable by using pure caffeine powder.  However, caffeine dependence is quite common and it may be surprising how challenging it is to quit caffeine. Keep in mind that caffeine is a substance like other drugs that give a high. Withdrawal is difficult and may cause uncomfortable symptoms such as headaches, lack of focus, mood swings, constipation, and depression.  [6]

Although it is hard, it’s healthier long-term. Here are a few helpful tips:

  1. Reduce slowly. Replace a few daily cups of coffee or energy drinks with tea, juice, or another flavored drink. Alternatively, start drinking half-decaf, half-regular coffees, or swap one daily coffee with a decaf version.
  2. Stay hydrated. Dehydration worsens the withdrawal symptoms of headache and fatigue.
  3. Sleep enough. Try getting seven to nine hours of sleep at night to fight the exhaustion.
  4. Use natural energy-boosters, such as exercise, nutrient-dense foods, and stress-reduction techniques like meditation to naturally feel awake. [7] 

If you are going to consume caffeine in any form, it is strongly recommended to avoid the use of pure caffeine powder. It is hazardous with a high risk of misuse, and has we have tragically seen it can even lead to death.  

  1. Debbie White. Warning as man dies after single teaspoon of caffeine powder in protein shake causes massive overdose day before 22nd birthday https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/9460301/man-dies-teaspoon-caffeine-powder-in-protein-shake-causes-massive-overdose-day-before-22nd-birthday/ July 8, 2019
  2. Shannon Molloy. Man’s freak death from caffeine toxicity sparks urgent warning from his devastated family https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/health-problems/mans-freak-death-from-caffeine-toxicity-sparks-urgent-warning-from-his-devastated-family/news-story/9d96f2d0f7c1e13d7d0cdaa1f46795bd July 8, 2019
  3. Alexandra Murray, Jeremy Traylor. Caffeine Toxicity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532910/ November 15, 2018
  4. Autumn Rivers and Timothy Jewell. Caffeine Overdose: How Much Is Too Much? https://www.healthline.com/health/caffeine-overdose December 6, 2018
  5. FDA. Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much December 12, 2018
  6. Karima R. Sajadi-Ernazarova, Richard J. Hamilton. Caffeine, Withdrawal https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430790/ October 27, 2018
  7. Jillian Kubala, MS, RD. 8 Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/caffeine-withdrawal-symptoms#section10 April 24, 2018

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Sarah Biren
Founder of The Creative Palate
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender. Her blog The Creative Palate shares the nutrition and imagination of her recipes for others embarking on their journey to wellbeing.

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