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Caffeine: a ‘psychoactive drug’ with ups and downs for body and brain

Staff November 9, 2012 News No Comments

By Jenna Rodcay
Transcript Reporter

When the word caffeine is said, usually thoughts of coffee, soda or tea come to mind. However, caffeine is also a drug.

According to National Geographic magazine, caffeine is the most popular drug in the world and is used to help people feel awake after little sleep and to overcome jet lag.

Caffeine is a psychoactive drug, meaning that it is able to affect chemical reactions in the brain. Adenosine molecules slow activity in the central nervous system and cause the individual to feel tired.

Caffeine makes people feel awake. After being ingested, its molecules bind to adenosine receptor cells and take adenosine’s place, inhibiting the adenosine from binding and causing the person to feel tired. Caffeine also increases dopamine levels, which cause the person to feel happier.

Caffeine is found in more than 60 different plants and, although it has milder affects, it alters the same parts of the brain as drugs such as cocaine, heroin and amphetamines.

According to a study done by the Harvard School of Public Health, more than 54 percent of Americans over the age of 18 consume drink nearly three cups of coffee each day and spend more than $40 billion on coffee each year.

Like other drugs, caffeine can become addictive. Signs of caffeine addiction include headache, fatigue, depression, irritability and decreased energy.

These symptoms can set in after not having a drink of caffeine for 12 to 24 hours and the symptoms can continue to occur between two to nine days.

In the college realm, caffeine is used as a crutch to function normally. Students often stay up late into the night and wake up early for class.

Several OWU students said they drink caffeinated beverages to stay alert and focused throughout the day.

Junior Justin Segal said he only drinks one cup of coffee a week and does do so because he likes the taste.

Senior Allyson North also drinks coffee because she enjoys the taste and said she drinks an iced mocha or frappuccino a few days a week.

Freshman Mark Chalmers said he doesn’t drink coffee, but drinks Red Bull and Vitamin Water Energy at least three days a week.

“I drink it whenever I need it, really,” Chalmers said. “If I’m tired before class (or) if I need to study and stay focused.”

Chalmers said he thinks caffeine has had a positive effect on him.

“I don’t feel a dependence,” he said. “It’s more like a bonus.”

Sophomore Miles MacKenzie said he drinks 5 Hour Energy drinks about two days a week to help him stay awake in class after staying up late to study or getting up earlier than normal.

Rania Batayneh, MPH, a nutritionist and owner of a nutrition consulting firm, spoke to Everydayhealth.com about the health risks and benefits of consuming caffeine.

According to Batayneh, foods that are rich in caffeine “can help lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer.”

Batayneh said healthy individuals should consume less than 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day, which is about three cups of coffee, four cups of tea and six cans of soda.

Doses higher than 500 mg have “been found to cause nervousness, irritability, insomnia, an upset stomach, muscle tremors and an irregular heartbeat.”

The New York Times recently covered the lawsuit filed against Monster Beverage, in which a teenage girl died after consuming two Monster Energy drinks within two days.

According to the Times, the medical examiner stated “she had died of ‘cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity’ that had exacerbated an existing heart problem.” Though she knew of her underlying heart condition, she had not been advised to alter her caffeine intake.

The teenager’s mother filed the lawsuit and said Monster Beverage had “failed to warn about the risks of the energy drinks.”

Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not found significant evidence to prove it, Monster Energy drinks may be linked to five deaths in recent years.

Batayneh said energy drinks and shots are even more dangerous than drinks like soda, coffee and tea because they combine high levels of caffeine “with ingredients such as guarana (a stimulant), taurine (an amino acid that regulates energy levels and heartbeat), and ginseng (a root that is believed to increase energy).”

“These ingredients can also interact with prescription drugs and antibiotics, decreasing their effectiveness and possibly causing other harmful side effects,” Batayneh said. “Ingesting all of these at once can lead to caffeine toxicity.”

Caffeine toxicity occurs when a lethal dose of caffeine is ingested—approximately 10 grams of caffeine for an average adult.

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