A teenager died from a “caffeine-induced cardiac event” after drinking a succession of caffeinated drinks in a short period of time, a coroner has ruled.
Davis Allen Cripe reportedly drank a McDonald’s latte and a large Mountain Dew soft drink before “chugging” an energy drink within the space of two hours.
The 16-year-old then experienced an irregular heartbeat and collapsed in his high school in South Carolina. He did not have a pre-existing heart condition.
The coroner emphasised that the teen’s death was not prompted by the drinks themselves or even by the amount of caffeine in his system.
Instead, coroner Gary Watts said it was “just the way that it was ingested over that short period of time”, according to the BBC.
So how much caffeine is safe to consume and why do we need to spread it throughout the day?
How much caffeine is safe to consume?
According to Bupa UK medical director Dr Steve Iley, caffeine tolerance varies between individuals, but generally speaking, adults shouldn’t consume more than 400mgs of caffeine spread across a day.
“This is the equivalent of about four coffees,” he told HuffPost UK.
“Caffeinated drinks, such as energy drinks, contain about 80mg of caffeine [and] will also have other stimulants, so it’s important to take this in to consideration. Always read the label as some can contain much more caffeine than this.”
He said too much caffeine and other stimulants can make you feel irritable, light-headed, anxious and dehydrated and lead to trouble sleeping.
“They can also lead to headaches, an increased heart rate and stomach pains,” he said.
Why should you stagger caffeine consumption?
Caffeine acts as a stimulant, meaning it raises levels of physiological or nervous activity in the body.
“By drinking caffeine quickly, or too much caffeine in a short amount of time, you can shock your brain and nervous system; it increases your heart rate, causes you to feel more anxious while also dehydrated by changing the brain neurotramsmitters,” Dr Iley said.
“People can respond to stimulants such as caffeine differently. People who consume a lot of caffeine can develop a tolerance for it and like many addictive substances, they will need to consume more to have the same effect.
“Your individual tolerance depends on your weight, age, sensitivity and health history e.g. irregular heartbeats and whether you are pregnant.”
What advice should caffeine-drinkers follow?
While Dr Iley said he could not comment on Davis Allen Cripe’s individual case, he did say “everyone should listen to their body”.
“If you are feeling unwell, anxious or jittery as a result of consuming caffeine, don’t have any more. Make sure you read the label to understand how much caffeine you might be consuming,” he said.
“It’s recommended that you have no more than 400mg of caffeine per day. And it’s best not to have any caffeine in the six hours before you go to bed so it doesn’t affect your sleep. Some people will need a longer caffeine-free period before sleep, some people are less affected.”