‘Teaspoon is lethal’ in natural product
Natural ingredients such as caffeine and green tea extract are among the most dangerous supplements in "common use," with just a teaspoon enough to kill in some cases, a public health professor has warned.
UTS Associate Professor of Public Health, Jon Wardle, told news.com.au supposedly natural products can wreak havoc in high doses, with many people not realising the potency of widely available supplements.
"People look at something like caffeine and they get a bit blasé about it," he said. "They might forget about the cups of tea they're drinking, the Coke they're drinking. It does all add up."
"A lot of these products have the maximum dose [of caffeine], which is 400 mg, but if you look at the product itself that would be a small spoonful. People are putting a heaped spoonful."
An espresso coffee would have around 50-100 mg of caffeine, while some products containing green tea extract can be the equivalent of 20 cups of green tea.
Prof Wardle said while deaths are rare and most supplement companies are trying to do the right thing, a legal loophole that allows supplements to be classified as foods rather than medicine has created a "legal grey zone" that is potentially dangerous for consumers.
"There's no understanding of the risk of these things. If you're selling this into the Australian market as a supplement there would be a lot more obligations," he said, adding that the "more is more" gym culture can have "astounding" risks such as liver disease, anxiety and high-blood pressure.
The warning comes following the death of Lachlan Foote, a healthy 21-year-old who died after ingesting caffeine powder. His family have spoken out about the toxicity of the substance following a coroners report as a warning they hope will save lives.
"It turns out that Lachlan came home after celebrating New Year's Eve with his friends and made a protein shake, innocently adding too much pure caffeine powder - a teaspoon is lethal," his father, Nigel Foote, said.
It's unclear where Lachlan had got the caffeine powder from, although it's a commonly used supplement in fitness circles and the family believe it could have been shared among friends.
"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," his father said.
"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."
The sports supplement industry was brought to regulatory attention last year following the death of bodybuilder Meegan Hefford, who died from a genetic disorder which stopped her breaking down the vast amounts of protein she was ingesting.
Caffeine and green tea extract featured heavily in the roundtable discussion with a summary report finding that pre-workout supplements were likely to contain "very high" levels of caffeine that could lead to "inherent risk".
Restrictions on sales were discussed including the prospect of whether this could drive people toward less regulated purchases online.