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Most people are familiar with the morning rush from that first cup of coffee, or the quick pick-me-up from an afternoon soda. Developers of highly caffeinated energy drinks have made fortunes from campaigns directed at youths with catchy names and sugary beverages. Caffeine is one of the most widely used substances in the world; up to 90% of adults consume caffeine daily. With such rampant use, we may ask, is it safe? And at what level?

Caffeine is commonly found in coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, as a supplement, in chocolate, and in some coffee flavored ice creams. Based on data collected from observational studies, it appears that consumption of up to 400 milligrams of caffeine in a day appears to be “safe”. What does that mean to the consumer? An 8 ounce cup of coffee may contain 102-200 mg of caffeine depending on the type of coffee and how it is produced. A 20 oz Mountain Dew soft drink has 118 mg. A 12 oz Pepsi has 36-38 mg, and Coke of the same size weighs in between 35-47 mg. An 8 oz Rockstar energy drink and an 8.3 oz Redbull tie at 80 mg of caffeine per serving. There is one gram of caffeine in a single Hershey’s milk chocolate kiss, and dark chocolate contains significantly more caffeine than milk chocolate.

Though widely used and found in many every day products, caffeine is a drug with numerous effects on the brain, cardiovascular, endocrine, and gastrointestinal systems. The drug works on adenosine receptors found throughout the body, acting as a key to unlock a stimulatory response. Caffeine is known for causing insomnia, headache, palpitations, dizziness, racing heart rates, tremor and diarrhea. It can also cause dangerous arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), elevated blood pressure and electrolyte imbalances. At high levels, caffeine can be very dangerous or even lethal. Studies have shown that the response to caffeine varies among people based on their genetics; this explains why some people are able to drink many cups of coffee and fall fast asleep while others will have one cup early in the day and feel jittery late into the afternoon.

If a substance is so dangerous, why do people continue to use it? In studies caffeine has been shown to increase alertness and ability to concentrate at night. At moderate doses it can improve vigilance and reaction time. It can improve functioning in the sleep deprived by improving decision-making and ability to operate machinery. It is also mildly addictive and sometimes it feels as though it is “needed”.

Not good, but not all bad either. Who should reconsider?

Ultimately, you have the power to make choices about your health, but those choices will follow you into the future. The most important thing you can do for your health is to be empowered and informed so you can make wise decisions. Healthy individuals with normal blood pressures and low cardiac risk profiles may not suffer any adverse effects from using caffeine. If you have an arrhythmia, palpitations, or high blood pressure talk to your doctor about using caffeinated products. There are many safe and decaffeinated options available with the same flavor palate. If you are feeling tired or sleep deprived, consider your sleep hygiene. One 15 minute nap in the afternoon may revitalize you naturally without the added calories, sugar and cost of a caffeinated beverage. If you are still feeling tired, talk to your doctor, we are here to help.

Benefits and risks of caffeine and caffeinated beverages. UpToDate.com. 2014.

Keywords: health, caffeine, trends, culture, cardiovascular, heart, health

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