Caffeine: The Sun We Revolve Around

May 3, 2017
By , Houston, TX

Today, caffeinated food and drinks have become an important aspect of many social events or gatherings, and has come to play a major role in our daily lives. As it comforts the head and heart, it also boosts our energy, which is no wonder why it is the #2 drug in the world! It is consumed for its quick stimulating effect on mental and physical functions in many different forms, such as coffee, soda, tea, energy drinks and bars, pills, and many more. Some people desire the drug for its distinct taste and aroma, while others depend on it for a quick energy boost. As a stimulating drug that serves as a psychoactive compound , coffee is known to have varying positive and negative effects on adolescents and adults. Although overconsumption is not an issue, regulations should be placed and healthier alternatives should be practiced.

All over the world, caffeine has become one of the most essential drugs in fighting the battle against drowsiness. It serves as a pathway for everyone to have increased energy, so it is no surprise that 8 out of 10   adults in the United States regularly consume caffeine. The medical explanation behind this miracle drug is that it prevents adenosine , which is a natural molecule found in our bodies, from attaching to brain cells and slowing down neural and physical functions. When this occurs, it allows our mind to process information more quickly and gives us the feeling of increased awareness. It also protects memories and thoughts by strengthening the deepest level of memory retention in our brains, known as pattern separation . Not only does caffeine protect your mind by staving off adenosine, but it also increases the usage of stored fats and sugars in your body. This will aid in the weight-loss  process, but will also trigger hunger more quickly because of the drop in blood sugar. There are also many varying side effects which are experienced by increased heart rate, such as headaches, jitteriness. However, a symptom that almost everyone experiences is the dreaded “crash experience”, when the caffeine wears off and causes a sudden feeling of drowsiness.

Generally speaking, everyone experiences very similar effects from caffeine. However, there are several factors that change the process of metabolizing caffeine, so the lasting effects are different for everyone. Some of the main factors include age, health, and other drugs that are already in the bloodstream. For example, teenagers metabolize 4 times more slowly than adults and infants 20 times more slowly- which is why adolescents are advised to keep away from caffeine. Because it stays in their system for much longer, it will hinder deep sleep and sleep patterns during the most rapid time of development, when sleep is crucial. 

Although caffeine is known to have a negative impact on adolescents, its effects on older adults is significantly positive. Recent studies show that older adults benefit from habitual coffee consumption in preventing diseases that hinder cognitive function, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (20% lower risk) . The reason behind this is because caffeine contains special neuro-protective and antioxidant components that will protect mental functions. Although this is a bonus for some people, it also comes hand-in-hand with calcium loss in the bones.  Over a long period of time, it will eventually lead to the development of Osteoporosis, a medical condition with weaker and less dense  bones. Keeping all the different effects in mind, there is no doubt that caffeine has a balance in both negative and positive impacts.  So, there should be some degree of regulating caffeine consumption in the United States to prevent over dosage and maintain a healthy balance in the human diet.
Although caffeine is consumed by 80% of people nationwide, overconsumption isn’t an issue. However, regulations should be placed in order to protect everyone (especially adolescents) from becoming too dependent on caffeine. Currently, the FDA does not require food and beverage companies to state how much caffeine their products contain on the nutrition facts label. This stimulating drug is highly unregulated, because it’s a supplement and is generally recognized as safe. However, this causes people to be unaware of how much caffeine they are consuming, and there have been some fatal cases of over dosage. For example, the number of emergency medical visits involving energy drinks is rapidly increasing throughout the years. In 2005, the number of emergency visits was 1,128, and by 2009, it rose to 13,144 visits, according to NBC News . If only food labels stated caffeine amounts, the number of emergency visits could be drastically reduced.

Although caffeine is considered a drug that alters mental functions, it isn’t a highly dangerous drug that causes addiction problems. The effects of caffeine only go so far as to enhance dopamine- a chemical that controls movement and emotions- which causes people to be more alert and awake. It’s only a small increase- not a large surge that will unbalance the reward circuits in the brain, which is necessary for an addiction to develop. Tests have also shown that caffeine isn’t dangerous because people that have become dependent on caffeine can still cope without the drug, without destructive behavior.

A recent survey with 54 students (ages 11-15) who were questioned about their caffeine intake. Out of the 51 students that regularly consume the drug, 17 stated that they consume it in the form of coffee,17 stated soda, 2 stated food, and 1 stated energy drinks. The other 14 students responded saying they consumed it in another form. Thanks to this study, it can be concluded that almost 1/3 of caffeine consumers (who are adolescents) take the drug in an unhealthy way, although healthier alternatives do exist. Other drinks that help to stimulate the brain are herbal teas, which contain half the amount of caffeine than most drinks, along with antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, which assist the digestion and immune systems . A perfect example is the Camellia Sinensis tea- it serves as a natural anti-oxidant to rid the body of toxins, while serving as a gentle stimulant.  Other healthy alternatives include nutty smoothies and juices, such as wheatgrass and lemon juice, which act as a natural protein-type supplement. Fruits such as apples or bananas are also useful for temporarily stimulating the brain. For people that want to stop consuming caffeine overall, the best solution is to gradually decrease the levels of caffeine intake and take a vitamin B complex supplement in order to prevent caffeine withdrawal symptoms (which include headaches and significant drowsiness).

The positive and negative effects of caffeine vary between adolescents and adults. Thankfully, overconsumption is not a problem but caffeine dependence can be prevented with regulations from the FDA to put caffeine levels on food labels. There are also many healthier alternatives to caffeine and solutions to gradually stop consuming caffeine for those that wish to live a healthier lifestyle and avoid any negative outcomes. Although many of us value caffeine as our holy grail, we must not forget to moderate how much caffeine we consume in order to maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle.

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