Too Much Caffeine: In Gum, Energy Drinks, and More

Caitlin Kennedy, B.A.

June 2013

coffee

Caffeine is naturally found in chocolate, coffee, and tea, but in the United States, there are many ways to get caffeine in your diet, and sometimes that means too much caffeine.

Caffeinated alcoholic beverages have been banned in the U.S. after several reports of hospitalizations and deaths.  Caffeine and alcohol seem to create a dangerous combination of a fast, irregular heart beat and dehydration.  Energy drinks have come under scrutiny for combining caffeine with other supplements, some of which contain even more caffeine themselves.  As a result, energy drinks may have much more caffeine than the amount posted on the nutrition label.  FDA has decided to do more to protect consumers, especially children, so they are now testing whether these drinks are harmful.1

Caffeinated gum recently joined the club, and following meetings with the FDA, in May 2013, Wrigley decided to stop making and marketing its new caffeinated gum, at least temporarily.2  We don’t know if their Alert Energy Caffeine Gum is still available in any stores, but if it is, it will soon be sold out.  The FDA was especially concerned about the gum’s effect on children and teens.  The gum’s mint and fruit flavors and bright, colorful packaging would easily attract children and teens.

One piece of Alert Energy gum contains 40 mg of caffeine, which is the same amount as about a half cup of coffee.  As the gum is chewed, the caffeine is released into your saliva.  Some caffeine is swallowed in the same way that it is in coffee or tea; and some is absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the mouth.  This absorption in the mouth causes the caffeine in gum to have a more immediate impact than other forms of caffeine.3  This quick impact could be dangerous, especially when it is unexpected.

Caffeinated gum is not approved by the FDA.  In fact, the only time that the FDA has approved the use of caffeine in a food was for cola in the 1950s, according to Michael R. Taylor, the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine.4  Although small amounts of caffeine are safe and can even be beneficial, larger quantities have risks.  The most common problem is that by making it more difficult for the person to fall asleep, it can cause sleep deprivation, which increases the likelihood of accidents, and can contribute to a dangerous cycle of caffeine and sleeping pills day after day.

  1. FDA letter to Senator Durbin. November 21, 2012. Accessed January 10, 2013 http://durbin.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=60fccdd9-7e60-45d4-b529-4bf472cc6eee  
  2. CNN. “Wrigley Halts Production of Caffeine Gum.” May 8, 2013. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/08/health/wrigley-caffeine-gum-production/index.html (Accessed May 13, 2013).  
  3. Kamimori, G.H., Karyekar, C.S., Otterstetter, R., Cox, D.S., Balkin, T.J., Belenky, G.L., & Eddington, N.D. (2002). The rate of absorption and relative bioavailability of caffeine administered in chewing gum versus capsules to normal healthy volunteers. International Journal of Pharmaceuticals, 234(1-2), 159-167. doi: 10.1016/S0378-5173(01)00958-9  
  4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Consumer Info about Additives and Ingredients.” http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm094210.htm (Accessed May 13, 2013).