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Pros and Cons of the Caffeine Craze

Caffeine Definition

Caffeine is a stimulant which can increase alertness and heart rate. Caffeine can also cause restlessness and difficulty in sleeping. The effects of caffeine begin about 15 minutes after being consumed and can last up to several hours. People differ in their sensitivity to caffeine and can have very different types of reactions.
How Caffeine Works

Caffeine exaggerates the stress response. At the cellular level, caffeine locks the receptor normally used by adenosine, a brain modulator that provides feedback to avoid over-stimulation of nerve cells. If adenosine is locked up, nothing keeps the nervous system from getting too excited at a cellular level.

People joke about being hooked on caffeine, but is it truly addictive? Researchers have debated that question for years. There's no question. Caffeine is addictive for some people. Caffeine does produce dependence, and caffeine withdrawal is a real syndrome.

The Benefits of Caffeine

Caffeine can improve memory, decrease fatigue, improve your mental functioning, study after study suggests. It can improve your short-term memory and speed up your reaction times, according to a study presented in 2005 at the Radiological Society of North America.

Moderate coffee consumption -- defined as three or four cups a day, providing 300 or 400 milligrams of caffeine -- carries little evidence of health risks and some evidence of health benefits.

Coffee drinking, the researchers say, may help prevent type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and liver disease, including liver cancer. And it doesn't appear to significantly increase heart disease risk or cancer. But, they warn, those with high blood pressure, as well as children, teens, and the elderly, may be more vulnerable to caffeine's adverse effects.

The Downsides of Caffeine

Caffeine does boost blood pressure. Repeated elevations in blood pressure and increases in your reactions to daily stress that occur with caffeine intake could boost the risk of heart disease. The boost in blood glucose levels that accompanies caffeine intake is also a health risk.

Daily soft drink consumption may lower bone mineral density in women but not men.

Emerging Dangers

Caffeine abuse is an emerging problem, especially as caffeine shows up in more products and in higher amounts. Soda sizes have gotten larger, the amount of caffeine in the so-called energy drinks has increased, and dietary supplements for weight loss often include caffeine.

The problem may be particularly prevalent among young people. The Illinois Poison Center in Chicago has found that more than 250 cases of medical complications occurred from ingesting caffeine supplements and that 12% of the callers had to be hospitalized. The average age of the cases was 21.

There are quite a few new energy drinks, and diet pills often use caffeine. Often a doctor may not think to ask about these products when taking a medical history. Those who were hospitalized often had consumed other pharmaceutical products along with too much caffeine. Caffeine abuse symptoms include insomnia, tremors, nausea, vomiting, chest pains, and palpitations, among others.

One of those new energy drinks, the previously mentioned Cocaine, is triggering protests not only for its name, but also because it contains far more caffeine and energy-boosting ingredients than competitors.

Consumers Beware

"Hidden" caffeine is a growing danger. In 1997, the CSPI petitioned the FDA to label the caffeine content of foods, noting that the amount of caffeine varies widely among food products.

The caffeine content of 12-ounce soft drinks, for instance, varies from none to about 60 milligrams. CSPI is in support of labels that tell the amount, in milligrams, of caffeine in foods and drinks.

Even decaf coffee may contain caffeine. Nearly all decaf contains some caffeine, the researchers reported, so that if someone drinks five to 10 cups of decaf a day, their caffeine intake could equal that in a cup or two of regular coffee.

So how to tread the line between moderate intake and too much?

It has to be individualized. Some people are very sensitive, they can't even have a soft drink. Some people can drink coffee and fall right asleep. In general, people need to be aware of the kind of adverse effects caffeine can have. And if they are experiencing those, cut down or cut out caffeine.
Caffeine drinks are trendy, but are there some downsides

If you crave caffeine to get you through the day, you're not alone. About 68% of Americans say they're hooked on coffee this year, compared with 64% last year, according to the National Coffee Association.

Sales of caffeine-laced energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster are expected to rise 60% this year. If those don't give you enough of a buzz, you can turn to sodas, coffee-flavored yogurt -- some of it has as much caffeine as a 12-ounce soda -- coffee ice cream, chocolate candy, or iced tea. And one new product, controversially named Cocaine, goes one step further, offering a mega-dose of caffeine that dwarfs its nearest competitors.

Some medicines and dietary supplements for weight loss also include a dose of caffeine. Coke is even planning to roll out a new "negative calorie" carbonated green tea beverage this fall called Enviga that combines caffeine with other ingredients to -- according to the company -- increase calorie burning.

So what's the harm, ask caffeine fans, who point to studies showing the benefits of caffeine, such as boosting memory and improving concentration and perhaps lowering risks of diseases such as Alzheimer's and liver cancer.

But others are alarmed by what they say is an increasingly over-caffeinated nation; they are concerned by studies finding too much caffeine can set you up for high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and decreased bone density -- not to mention jangled nerves. Caffeine abuse by young people alarms some experts.
Source: WebMD
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