Caffeine: common ingredient and harmful toxin

By Jennifer Tran

Caffeine, one of the most popular drugs in the world, is naturally produced in leaves and seeds of many plants, also known as guaranine. Around 90 percent of Americans consume caffeine every single day. Many consumers are unaware of the dangers of caffeine and its effects on the body.  Caffeine is defined as a drug because once consumed it stimulates the central nervous system causing increased alertness.  It is a naturally part of chocolate, coffee, and tea. In many cases, it is used as an added energy boost in most  sodas and energy drinks.

In nature, caffeine acts as a form of pest control for plants like cacao trees, coffee shrubs, and tea trees. It causes pests and insects to collapse because of over stimulation. Once removed from a plant, caffeine is in the form of white powder. When in this form, caffeine is a really bitter and odorless. As a result, many beverages that contain caffeine also contain a large amount of sugar or sweeteners. Consuming caffeine can include many harmful side effects, and because it is absorbed and distributed very quickly, the side effects can take effect as soon as 15 minutes after caffeine is consumed. It then passes into the brain. Even though caffeine is not stored in the body, a user can feel its effects for as long as six hours until the caffeine is excreted in the urine. Higher doses of caffeine can lead to faster heart rate, excessive urination, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, anxiety, depression, tremors, and difficulty sleeping. Some studies also show that caffeine can cause a person to develop a physical dependence, meaning it is addicting. 

When the caffeine effects are gone, many users will reach for another beverage with high caffeine count or something sugary. This can possibly lead to chronic adrenal exhaustion. Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands and tells them to produce more adrenalin. After the adrenal high wears off, the body will feel exhaustion, irritability and headaches or confusion. Before 2004, caffeine was one of the checked substances in athletes by the International Olympics Committee. Athletes who tested positive for more than 12 micrograms of caffeine per milliliters of urine, equal to five cups of coffee, could be banned from the Olympic Games. Caffeine was removed from the list in 2004, so that athletes will not be penalized after consuming a beverage with a large amount of caffeine. Some typical withdrawal symptoms include headache, fatigue, and muscle pain. To prevent any of these withdrawal symptoms, reduce the caffeine intake gradually.

It is believed that in 850 A.D. was the first known discovery of coffee. One version of the story is of a goat herder named  Kaldi of Ethiopia. He notices that his goats were missing, and when he found them, all the goats were dancing and acting friskier around a local shrub of red berries (coffee beans). Kaldi ate the red berries and found that he had energy and felt happier.  He spoke with some monks, and they decided to create a drink out of the red berries, coffee. Now in the United States coffee is one of the most popular drinks. Americans consume about 400 million cups of coffee everyday, making the U.S. the leading consumer of coffee in the world.

Caffeine can also be found in many other food items. Tea , soda, and energy drinks, all contain a large amount of caffeine. Five ounces of tea contains about 40 to 80 milligrams of caffeine. A 12 ounce Coca-Cola Classic contains 34 milligrams of caffeine. A 16 ounce Monster energy drink contains 164 milligrams of caffeine.  Caffeine consumption is not needed in a person’s daily diet. If consuming caffeine, it is best to lower your caffeine intake and reduce consumption gradually. In a few days, your energy levels will return to normal.