Caffeine consumption: A cautionary tale

What originally intended to be a light-hearted post about National Caffeine Awareness Month has turned into a cautionary tale of how too much of a good thing can turn deadly – LITERALLY!

The USA Today published an article earlier this month (coincidence?) of a 29-year-old personal trainer from Wales named Tom Mansfield who passed away last January from an accidental caffeine overdose. The young man had mistakenly measured and consumed a serving of a caffeine powder supplement that was the equivalent of drinking 200 cups of coffee.

“A postmortem exam showed he had caffeine levels of 392 milligrams per liter of blood…Caffeine levels would be 2 to 4 milligrams per liter for a person who drank a cup of coffee.”

– USA Today

Reading about Tom’s tragic death got me to reflect on my Boston University days. Back then, my caffeine consumption typically consisted of 2-3 Venti Caramel Macchiatos with 1-2 extra shots of espresso. Cramming for exams and writing papers while pulling all-nighters pushed those numbers up. Add in an energy drink every now and then and…well…you get the picture.

Life of a college student.

But there was also a period where I experimented with caffeine while exercising. I specifically used what’s known as an “ECA stack” which is a combination of:

  • Ephedrine/ephedra (also known ma huang)
  • Caffeine
  • Aspirin

It was recommended to me by a friend who was in tremendous shape. I bought bottles of aspirin and ephedrine capsules and consumed the recommended doses of each substance along with a cup of black coffee before every workout. This was an inexpensive alternative to the popular weight-loss & performance enhancement supplements of that time containing similar ingredients. I was young and college “poor”. Also vain (still am to some extent LOL). I wanted to be SHREDDED like my friend.  Truth be told, I did experience the stack’s benefits:

  • better, more intense workouts
  • noticeable body definition

AWESOME!

I don’t remember how long I used the stack or why I eventually stopped using it but, looking back now, I think I dodged a bullet. After a number of reported deaths and cases of adverse effects related to their use, dietary supplements containing ephedrine/ephedra were banned by the Food & Drug Administration in 2004.

I graduated from college in 2000.

I’m so grateful my decision didn’t turn tragic.

Nowadays, my caffeine consumption consists of 2-3 small cups of coffee (usually black). Once in a while, I’ll have one of those cups before a workout – but that’s it.

Frou-frou coffee drinks are a rare treat – sodas too.

No energy drinks for me.

And thanks to the nutritional lifestyle I adopted a year-and-a-half ago, I toned up and lost a significant amount of weight (and kept it off) safely, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

On top of that, I’m in better shape today than my college-self. Last month, I hiked Koko Crater (for only the second time) on the island of Oahu, Hawai’i. Although a bit grueling at times, it truly was a rewarding experience.

Man – what a view.

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