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How much is too much caffeine?

Tuesday - 3/12/2013, 11:50am  ET

AP: 8e6d8cc9-b16c-45e0-93e5-6a265bfddddd
Actor Norbert Torok rehearses as the crew watches during the filming of a commercial for a new PepsiCo product called Kickstart, a carbonated drink that is part juice with Mountain Dew flavor. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

The dangers of gulping caffeine

WTOP's Paula Wolfson reports

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Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - With caffeinated marshmallows, pancake mix and gum on the market, companies are getting creative in catering to Americans' caffeine cravings.

One of the newest energy-enhanced items to hit grocery shelves is Mountain Dew Kickstart, a breakfast drink from PepsiCo Inc. The drink -- a 16-ounce can with more caffeine than a typical soda, but less than a Starbucks grande coffee -- is being marketed as a way to get a boost at the start of the day.

In the U.S., 80 percent of adults consume caffeine every day, according to the Food and Drug Administration. But health experts say there is no harm in drinking a cup or two of coffee.

"Caffeine itself is not harmful in lower doses," Scott Shapiro, assistant professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine.

But how much is too much?

For most healthy adults, the Mayo Clinic recommends consuming no more than 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine. That's the equivalent of two 12-ounce cups of regular coffee or four cans of soda.

However, for people who have to have a couple of venti coffees or several energy drinks, the risk of health problems increases.

"The concern with caffeine is very large doses, and individuals who don't normally drink it," Shapiro says.

Too much caffeine can cause insomnia, irritability, stomach upset and rapid heartbeat. The side effects are most worrisome in young people, especially those with underlying heart problems who may not have been diagnosed.

The FDA is investigating possible links between caffeine-fortified energy drinks after several people died after consuming Monster Energy Drink.

Meanwhile, the family of a Maryland teen is suing Monster Beverage, claiming that 14-year-old Anais Fournier died of cardiac arrest after drinking two 24-ounce cans of Monster drinks in a 24-hour period. Monster Beverage says a blood test was not conducted to confirm that the girl died of "caffeine toxicity."

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says there are several reasons to be concerned about energy drinks.

Beside the large amounts of caffeine, there are other ingredients in the beverages, and it is not known how they all interact, Jacobson says. Energy drinks, unlike coffee, also are usually gulped, and the stimulants enter the bloodstream in a short period of time.

"There may be some consequences from consuming that -- the gulps of the energy drink -- very quickly," says Jacobson, who emphasizes that more research is needed.

Jacobson says there needs to be more consistency in the way energy drinks are regulated and better labeling that clearly displays the amount of caffeine in each bottle, can or vial.

He adds that it is becoming more important as the food industry adds more caffeine-laced food items on the market, including those marshmallows and pancake mix infused with caffeine that are sold on the Internet.

To Jacobson, new caffeinated beverages like Kickstart, are just another way to get consumers to buy soft drinks.

"I guess Pepsi saw an opening at breakfast time," Jacobson says, "and they wanted to be the first to really exploit that niche."

See the caffeine content in popular coffee drinks below.

Coffees Serving Size Caffeine (mg)
Dunkin' Donuts Coffee with Turbo Shot large, 20 fl. oz. 436
Starbucks Coffee venti, 20 fl. oz. 415
Starbucks Coffee grande, 16 fl. oz. 330
Panera Frozen Mocha 16.5 fl. oz. 267
Starbucks Coffee tall, 12 fl. oz. 260
Starbucks Caffè Americano grande, 16 fl. oz. 225
Panera Coffee regular, 16.8 fl. oz. 189
Starbucks Espresso Frappuccino venti, 24 fl. oz. 185
Dunkin' Donuts Coffee medium, 14 fl. oz. 178
Starbucks Caffè Mocha grande, 16 fl. oz. 175
Starbucks Iced Coffee grande, 16 fl. oz. 165
Maxwell House Ground Coffee—100% Colombian, Dark Roast, Master Blend, or Original Roast 2 Tbs., makes 12 fl. oz. 100-160
Dunkin' Donuts Cappuccino large, 20 fl. oz. 151
Starbucks—Caffè Latte, Cappuccino, or Caramel Macchiato grande, 16 fl. oz. 150
Starbucks Espresso doppio, 2 fl. oz. 150
Keurig Coffee K-Cup, all varieties 1 cup, makes 8 fl. oz. 75-150
Folgers Classic Roast Instant Coffee 2 tsp., makes 12 fl. oz. 148
Starbucks Doubleshot Energy Coffee, can 15 fl. oz. 146
Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino venti, 24 fl. oz. 140
Starbucks VIA House Blend Instant Coffee 1 packet, makes 8 fl. oz. 135
McDonald's Coffee large, 16 fl. oz. 133
Source: Center for Science in Public Research

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