What You Should Know About Caffeine

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Last week, 5-hour Energy came under fire after the New York Times reported the Food and Drug Administration received 13 reports of deaths possibly linked to the energy drink. The claims add to the five deaths reported to the agency linked to Monster Energy, raising concerns about the safety of the beverages.

How could the energy drinks, whose main ingredient is caffeine, be connected to the deaths? Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, answer some questions worried consumers are asking about the beverages.

How does the body respond to caffeine?
“It’s a stimulant. It wakes you up. It makes you more alert. It is stimulating your nervous system,” says Giancoli. Giving the nervous system a jolt can lessen fatigue and sometimes improve mood. As heart rates go up, the body circulates more blood and can speed up the metabolism.

What are some of the adverse effects of caffeine?
If you’re not used to the amount of caffeine you’re consuming, you can feel jittery. “You can get heart palpitations and feel agitated and nervous and like you’re bouncing off the walls,” says Giancoli. “You can feel your heart pounding very quickly, and your blood pressure goes up. Imagine if your body were undergoing this, times 10. It would land you in the emergency room. Your heart can only handle so much, and you are probably going to pass out.”

How much caffeine is too much?
“Typically we would say 300 to 500 mg is safe for most people — not that people need that much or want that much — it’s about three to five cups of coffee,” says Giancoli. “There are people who can drink much more than that. Some people can drink a whole pot of coffee a day and have no problem. Then you hear about people who cannot retain caffeine at all and have one cup, and they’re flying off the walls.” Giancoli says people can become accustomed to high amounts of caffeine over time, so the effect in enhancing alertness and improving energy may dwindle in heavy and frequent consumers compared with those who rarely drink caffeinated beverages.

Why are the amounts of caffeine in energy drinks unlabeled?
The FDA currently does not require caffeine amounts to be listed on food labels. Caffeine is not considered a nutrient and therefore only needs to be listed as an ingredient. The FDA does not regulate energy drinks because they are sold as dietary supplements. If the FDA did regulate them, most would have levels of caffeine higher than what the agency deems safe. The agency currently allows sodas to contain 71 mg of caffeine per 355 ml. According to the FDA, energy drinks contain from 160 to 500 mg of caffeine per serving. A recent Consumer Reports test of 27 best-selling energy drinks found that 11 do not list caffeine content, and among those that do, the tested amount was on average 20% higher than what’s listed.

Is it possible to die from caffeine?
Overdoing caffeine alone is actually pretty difficult to do, says Jacobson. “It’s highly unlikely. Someone would really have to make an effort to consume 40 or so 200-mg caffeine tablets.”

Is it only the caffeine found in energy drinks that are the main concern, or are other ingredients playing a role?
“There just hasn’t been enough studies done on the other ingredients,” says Giancoli. “The problem comes when there is a massive amount of caffeine. Some of these drinks are very concentrated with caffeine for a very small amount of liquid. It would be easy to drink many of these in a row.” She says some teenagers drink a large amount of high-energy beverages to get a buzz and also mix the drinks with alcohol. “It’s the excessive intake that we are concerned about,” says Giancoli. “There is a part of the population that has underlying heart conditions that cannot handle that amount of caffeine. We want to be really careful with that group of people. They would not do so well on that dose of caffeine. But if anybody has 40 cups of coffee you will be in trouble.”

From a nutritional standpoint, should we be curbing our caffeine consumption?
“Not necessarily. People have been drinking these energy drinks for a long time now, and for much longer than other beverages that have caffeine in them, without harmful consequences. And in fact, there have been healthy consequences that have come out of research of regular coffee consumption,” says Giancoli. “Caffeine doesn’t necessarily need to be avoided, it’s these massive amounts that we are concerned about and particularly in kids when they’re trying to get buzzed. That’s when we really become worried.” For most people, caffeine in moderation is safe. Some sources of caffeine like coffee may also have additional health perks like lowering inflammation, which can contribute to heart disease, so safe amounts could be beneficial. “For coffee drinkers, the real issue we are concerned about is, Do you have trouble sleeping? If you do, maybe you do need to cut down on your caffeine. Are you agitated? Do you have stress that might be related to being jumpy from caffeine? If you do have symptoms that could be related to caffeine, then maybe you need to be tapering down. As far as avoiding it altogether, that’s not necessarily something we need to be doing if we can tolerate it. If we enjoy that cup of coffee there is no reason we shouldn’t drink it,” says Giancoli.

15 comments
_MikeBudd
_MikeBudd

It's amazing that coffee and caffeine have been presented as "bad for us" for years and recently as "good for us"! Who should we believe? To my point of view, it has to do with the observational type of most studies about coffee and caffeine: cohort, case-controlled or cross-sectional studies don't show medical evidence as a random controlled trial, they just give a risk factor.
It is today globally accepted that caffeine has more health benefits than risks only in case of a moderate consumption: http://ephedrinewheretobuy.com/ephedrine-where-to-buy-eca-stacks/coffee-a-true-wonder-drug
Caffeine is “natural” and like most things in nature, a little is a health-promoter, a lot is a health-negative."

okonsul
okonsul

Read the book, "Caffeine Blues", and then read this

John
John

When I was an engineering student in college in the '60s my room mate and I were curious about howmuch  coffee we were drinking so we saved all the styrofoam cups during a day over several days and would count them at the end of a day.  We were averaging 12 eight ounce cups a day! Sometimes, even that wasn't enough to maintain the level of  alertness we needed.

jbrasco
jbrasco

First time I ever had a Red Bull was with Vodka. But, I stopped drinking those years ago. I haven't touched an energy drink since. Mountain Dew is enough for me. 

JohnCampbell
JohnCampbell

We need to be more aware that caffeine causes/exacerbates anxiety and other mental health conditions.

Just read the 170+ pages of comments of people trying to get off caffeine here; http://coffeefaq.com/site/node/11And the research referenced here; http://caffeineevaluation.blogspot.co.uk/

Many people feel they cannot 'get going' in the morning without caffeine; in reality they are just experiencing withdrawal from not having ingested any over the previous hours.

A key point is the research showing anxiety sufferers can be very sensitive to caffeine; some people think 'it can't be the caffeine, I only have 1 cup a day', but for them that could be the key issue in their anxiety.

Withdrawal is not easy (especially first 2 weeks, when anxiety actually goes up), but is possible.

How about cutting all caffeine for 30 days and seeing how you feel? What's to lose?

Whatnow05
Whatnow05

I dunno people could just take responsibility for their actions. Many of the drinks have labels on them that say do not consume more than XYZ in ABC time period. 

Or you know use a little common sense. Drinking a case in a day seems like a pretty stupid idea. Why do we always wish to find a scape goat for our own failings? Furthermore we need to be less polite sometimes and tell people their behavior/ideas are dumb. 

Stupidity should hurt.

JackJack
JackJack

@Whatnow05 we should try help the stupid people, not disparage them! Unless you really hate yourself..

John
John

What some people don't seem to understand it that it's much more dangerous for those around us if we coffee drinkers don't get our first cup in the morning, right away, when we want it!

dwhamblin
dwhamblin

My understanding is that a lethal level of caffeine intake is five grams, much lower than the eight grams ("40 or so 200-mg caffeine tablets") indicated in this interview.  Caffeine is a very dangerous substance.

phen375
phen375

caffeine is not good for sure but all depends from how much coffee we drink per day. 

www.phen375.com

NeedsEric
NeedsEric like.author.displayName 1 Like

The generalization that a typical cup of coffee contains 100 mgs of caffeine is very misleading.  A grande (medium) sized Starbucks contains 320 mg of caffeine and even a medium Dunkin Donuts is 206 mgs.  Which makes me beg the question as to why drinks like Red Bull and Monster are being fully demonized when you would have to drink 4 RED BULLS and 2 16oz MONSTERS to match the 320 mgs?  5 hour energy? 200 mgs. BIG DEAL. 

DormanFlynt
DormanFlynt

Another reason to go easy on coffee. Instead of drinking energy drinks, why not try a fruit juice? it's great way to detoxify and it gives the body the boost it needs. Learned this thing from http://www.youthjuice.com/.

mermAidheel
mermAidheel

There goes my daily dose of caffeine...!

carlnewsome
carlnewsome

I do agree that we as people need to know what we are consuming. I drink coffee every day, and I rely on it to stay awake at work. As far as a company being blamed for deaths, I think the blame goes both ways. People should be more responsible with caffine, and how the consume it. They should not just rely on a label and what the FDA says. Research can go a long way if you use it!