With the fitness and health industry having grown significantly over the past 20 years, a corresponding explosion of the supplement market is a phenomenon that cannot really surprise. Mainstream’s awareness of nutrition and supps has risen accordingly. In principle, this is a positive development, given the increase of the typical diseases – diabetes and obesity – of modern Western societies. But as we know as members of the relatively small and well-informed circles of the strength sports and bodybuilding scene, the public knowledge is often very limited. And the dosage makes the poison, to speak with the antique Greek physician Paracelsus. Especially when it comes to boosters or otherwise energizing supplements, one has to know exactly how to apply them and which effects one has to expect. In the tragic case of a young Australian musician who died of an overdose of caffeine, we can see how crucial the task of a thorough education of the wider public about this subject is….
It was New Year’s Eve 2018, when Lachlan Foote mixed himself a protein shake with caffeine that would render to be lethal. The young musician from New South Wales, Australia would have celebrated his 22nd birthday on New Year’s Day, hadn’t he decided to take a concoction that was intended to serve as anti-hangover drink, possibly to get himself refreshed for the next night. At 2:07 in the morning Lachlan Foote, obviously irritated by the bitter taste of the highly caffeine-laden mix, wrote to his friends in a Facebook group: “I think my protein powder has gone off. Anyway… night lads. Cya in the morning.” Unfortunately, Foote never woke up to the light of the next morning but instead was found dead on the floor.
The mistake Foote made was fatal: “It turns out that Lachlan came home after celebrating NYE with his friends and made a protein shake, innocently adding too much pure caffeine powder – a teaspoon is lethal,” as his father Nigel Foote explains in an interview with News.com.au. To put this into proportion: While most boosters contain between 200 and 250 milligrams of caffeine and only hardcore boosters reach amounts of about 500 milligrams, one teaspoon of pure caffeine powder contains 5000 milligrams caffeine which is the equivalent of 35 cans of Red Bull!
Understandably, Lachlan’s father is enraged that pure caffeine powder, which has been illegalized in many countries, is still available in Australia. However, Nigel Foote found out that his son probably didn’t buy the powder by himself since there were no indications of this to find on his son’s computer or bank statements: “Therefore, 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.”
This brings us back to the aforementioned need for educating the masses about the benefits but also the risks of supplement consumption: While it may be a reasonable method to illegalize certain substances in some cases, the thorough information of the consumer is still the best way to prevent tragic accidents like that of Lachlan Foote. The bitter irony of his case is that it also shows the potential flip side of the criminalization of buying a specific substance: Since he didn’t obtain the powder through an official vendor and thus couldn’t read the warning label, it seems likely that the forced restriction of the distribution of said powder to such informal channels through illegalizing it would even increase the risk of overdosing because of a lack of info.