A recent tragic story told of an 18-year-old student who died from a cardiac arrhythmia and seizure as a direct result of powdered caffeine use. In fact, the makers of the 5-Hour Energy drink are being sued by the states of Oregon, Washington and Vermont, and the FDA is starting to look into the caffeine industry.
Believe it or not, caffeine is being infused into ice cream, potato chips, waffles and beef jerky! And the ever-increasing stressed-out and on-edge nation we live in needs to take a closer look at caffeine consumption and its effects.
Caffeine is the most prevalent substance of addiction in the world, with 80% to 90% of U.S. adults and a slightly smaller number of 7- to 18-year-olds taking in caffeine on a regular basis—for most, daily. Coffee is the most prevalent form, followed by sodas, energy drinks, then tea and chocolate. The average adult consumes 280 mg a day and the average teen takes in about 125-175 mg daily.
It is virtually impossible to go to any eatery, no matter how healthy it claims to be, and not find caffeine in some form. The proliferation of coffee shops and places like bookstores adding coffee shops is astounding. The most amazing irony is that the two environments where we should discourage addictions the most—churches and workplaces—are giving caffeine away for FREE. Oftentimes, the pastors and management teams are drinking it in front of the congregation and staff.
The number of ER visits due to caffeine use doubled from 2007 to 2011, with 11% needing inpatient admission for cardiac issues, seizures, dehydration, extreme anxiety or psychoses as the major problems that needed medically supervised attention.
According to a scientifically sound, double-blind study performed by the University of Vermont, Johns Hopkins and the National Institutes of Health, after an average of three days of caffeine use, participants couldn’t tell whether they were getting a placebo or caffeine. The recommendations of the study were to not use caffeine, but if you do, to use it only for a maximum of three days in order to receive the energy and cognitive benefits. Users will avoid caffeine withdrawal this way, as withdrawal rarely occurs after three days’ use. But users then have access to the caffeine benefits again when a particular project or situation calls for better focus and energy.
As a psychiatrist and medical doctor, I do not recommend caffeine consumption at all, as it has other risks associated with it, including:
- Increased irritability
- Lower frustration tolerance
- Decreased sleep (your body, especially your brain, needs to be sharp and ready to make good decisions the next day)
- Decreases appetite (again, your body needs nutrients to repair and grow)
- Affects brain circuitry, especially the reward system to allow fertile ground for process and substance addictions to germinate and take hold
- Puts the body in state of stress—the fight or flight response—as caffeine is like adrenaline
- An emotional and physical letdown or crash after the caffeine wears off
- Caffeine addiction and subsequent continued use or withdrawal (the day must be interrupted to make sure you get it at certain times to avoid the withdrawal headache, decreased energy, lightheadedness, distractibility, etc.)
- Acute health concerns (cardiac, neurological, digestive, emotional) and chronic (same as acute, but also osteoporosis, as well as stunted growth in kids)
- Infusing an adrenaline-like substance tells your own adrenaline factories to shut down because you are being stimulated artificially. Over time, this decreases your energy and sharpness, as it will take longer for your natural adrenaline factories to kick in again.
- Use is a poor role model for kids
- Increases your desire for sweet foods
- After three days, no real benefit from the caffeine, but many downsides