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CAFFEINE:
THE QUICK FIX OF GOOD,
BAD & UGLY

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SPECIAL REPORT--Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance in more than 60 plants including coffee beans, tea leaves, kola nuts used to flavor soft drink colas and cacao pods used to make chocolate products. Caffeine can also be replicated artificially and is often an additive in foods and medicines.

 

While the substance has its benefits, many researchers believe that the effects that caffeine can have upon the body outweigh the advantages. Caffeine is often used in over-the-counter pain medications because of its ability to dilate blood vessels, allowing other ingredients such as aspirin and acetaminophen to work more efficiently.  It can also work as a stimulant to treat temporary drowsiness or tiredness.

 

However, caffeine has plenty of negative effects that can be detrimental to your health, even in moderate quantities. People with heart problems shouldn’t use caffeine because it can raise the blood pressure, speed up the heart and create abnormal heart rhythms. Caffeine can elevate alter behavior, causing anxiety, headaches, nervousness, dizziness and a chemical dependence.  It can affect digestion, increasing stomach acid and creating upset stomachs or gastro reflux. Caffeine can also dehydrate the body, especially after strenuous activity so caffeinated beverages make poor choices for quenching a thirst.

 

In recent years, many beverage companies have begun producing energy drinks that have huge amounts of caffeine; sometimes more than two and a half times what a normal cup of coffee would possess. What’s worse is that these drinks are marketed to both children and young adults. 

 

In a 2006 study that was conducted by Bruce A. Goldberger, director of toxicology at the Unversity of Florida College of Medicine and published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, Goldberger pointed out that most energy drinks possessed caffeine in doses higher than the U.S. Food And Drug Administration (FDA) limit for soft drinks and that such levels in energy drinks were not regulated by FDA.  In the U., 80 percent of adults consume caffeine every day with the average adult taking in about 200 mg per day. That is the amount in two 5-ounce cups of coffee or four soft drinks.

 

Another study of middle school students in Ohio found that the average student took in an average of 53 mg of caffeine per day, but almost one in five consumed more than 100 milligrams per day.

 

While most people will suffer nothing more than withdrawal reactions from a dependency, overdoses of caffeine poses a serious danger and can at times, be fatal. The FDA knows of at least one college student who died after taking an overdose of caffeine tablets, which are commonly found at convenience stores, supermarkets and pharmacies over the counter. Another incident involving a caffeine-induced fatality was a supermarket worker who had consumed four energy drinks. The 40 year-old man collapsed and co-workers were unable to revive him.

 

The best advice is to limit caffeine as much as possible and keep consumption in tolerable limits. Be informed of how much caffeine is in a product that you are eating or drinking.  Most doctors recommend between 100-200 mg each day as a target limit, yet caffeine affects individuals with great variances, especially children. 

 

Consumers may be unaware of the exact amount of daily caffeine they consume, because they are unaware of its presence in some products. For example, one chocolate chip cookie can contain 3-5 mg of caffeine; even decaffeinated coffee contains 2-5 mg of caffeine. Dedicated coffee drinkers, who think that switching to decaf is acceptable, may find themselves drinking more of it to satisfy an addiction to caffeine.

 

To kick the caffeine habit, plan a gradual decrease to alleviate real symptoms like bad headaches, depression, muscle aches and irritability. One substantial way to cut down on caffeine is to cut out soft drinks or at least, switch to caffeine-free beverages. The cycle can be hard to break, but after a few days a person is likely to feel much better without the caffeine dependency.

Caffeine Content in Common Drinks and Foods
(University of Washington)

Item

Item size

Caffeine (mg)

Coffee

150 ml (5 oz)

60-150

Coffee, decaf

150 ml (5 oz)

2-5

Tea

150 ml (5 oz)

40-80

Hot Cocoa

150 ml (5 oz)

1-8

Chocolate Milk

225 ml

2-7

Jolt Cola

12 oz

100

Josta

12 oz

58

Mountain Dew

12 oz

55

Surge

12 oz

51

Diet Coca Cola

12 oz

45

Coca Cola

12 oz

64

Coca Cola Classic

12 oz

23

Dr. Pepper

12 oz

61

Mello Yellow

12 oz

35

Mr. Pibb

12 oz

27

Pepsi Cola

12 oz

43

7-Up

12 oz

0

Mug Root Beer

12 oz

0

Sprite

12 oz

0

Ben & Jerry’s No Fat Coffee Fudge Frozen Yogur

1 cup

85

Starbucks Coffee Ice Cream

1 cup

40-60

Dannon Coffee Yogurt

8 oz.

45

100 Grand Bar

1 bar (43 g)

11.2

Krackel Bar

1 bar (47 g)

8.5

Peanut Butter Cup

1 pk (51 g)

5.6

Kit Kat Bar

1 bar (46 g)

5

Raisinets

10 pieces (10 g)

2.5

Butterfinger Bar

1 bar (61 g)

2.4

Baby Ruth Bar

1 bar (60 g)

2.4

Special Dark Chocolate Bar

1 bar (41 g)

31

Chocolate Brownie

1.25 oz

8

Chocolate Chip Cookie

30 g

3-5

Chocolate Ice Cream

50 g

2-5

Milk Chocolate

1 oz

1-15

Bittersweet Chocolate

1 oz

5-35

 

Unversity of Washington data courtesy of the Food & Drug Administration. Some products listed above are no longer produced.