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Doses of caffeine powder, which is available online in bulk, must be measured carefully because they are so small. The powder was found near a high school student who died of a caffeine overdose in May. / Elizabeth Hoffmann, Getty Images/iStockphoto

On May 27, a prom king from Ohio died suddenly from a caffeine overdose, days before his high school graduation. He was discovered at home near white powder, having had an irregular heartbeat and seizures.

The use of caffeine in products such as energy drinks, over-the-counter pills and even inhalable caffeine has been hotly contested. But caffeine powder, available over the Internet, also poses a threat of misuse.

"With beverages, it's easier to understand the dose and the dose effect, because it's dissolved and the quantity is a bit more controlled," Katherine Zeratsky, a registered dietician with the Mayo Clinic, tells the USA TODAY Network. "With a caffeine supplement, you run the risk of people misdosing or, in this case, overdosing. It's a cause for concern and even an invitation."

What is caffeine powder?

Categorized as a supplement, caffeine powder is available online from private pharmaceutical labs in bulk quantities as big as 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds). It can be found at sites such as Amazon, GNC and Vitamin Shoppe.

With many products, the serving size is one-sixteenth of a teaspoon, which yields about 250 milligrams of caffeine, a little less than a small Starbucks coffee. Most of the products come with a micro-scale, explicit serving sizes and directions for its users.

"Caffeine powder is meant to be used more in a commercial sense. In most kitchens, people don't have one-sixteenth of a teaspoon. There's potential for error," Zeratsky says.

How is it regulated?

The Food and Drug Administration does not approve supplements before they go to market, but it has released a statement in light of the recent death.

"The agency has repeatedly voiced concern about products with high concentrations of caffeine and has been monitoring the proliferation of heavily caffeinated products increasingly available on the market," Jennifer Dooren, a spokeswoman with the FDA, says in a statement.

Dooren says the FDA is currently conducting a review to "better understand potential health effects of caffeine and potential safe levels of consumption." Its current recommendation is 400 milligrams a day (about 20 to 28 ounces of coffee).

How does it affect the body?

"Caffeine is a stimulant, so it has an effect on our brain and central nervous system, and high doses can cause heart arrhythmia," Zeratsky says. And while it's not categorized as a drug, she has seen it used that way in neonatal intensive care to help underdeveloped babies breathe correctly.

Zeratsky says that generally, bodies are good at moderating and adapting to different levels of caffeine, which is why someone used to drinking a couple cups of coffee a day does not get jitters.

"We get into the habit of thinking caffeine is so benign until something like this happens. It's natural but is used as a drug," she says.

Follow @lindsdee on Twitter.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Caffeine powder poses risk of misuse

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