The Caffeine Debate
—Still Brewing Strong
Caffeine is a mild stimulant that is present in many plants, the most popular of which are coffee beans,tea leaves, and cocoa nuts. This, of course, is howcaffeine sneaks into our daily diet, from our morningcup of Starbuck’s to that late night munch on aHershey bar. Caffeine is also artificially added toother products, including a number of beverages.
A typical drip-brewed cup of coffee may contain around 100 milligrams of caffeine, and that’s just asix-ounce cup. What about tea? Often hailed as thecompletely safe alternative to coffee, a six-ounce cupof tea contains 70 milligrams of caffeine, making itsomewhat less threatening, but clearly not as inno-cent as most assume. In any event, more than half ofus in this country take in more than 300 milligramsof caffeine each day.
Some people notice that anything with caffeine in it tends to give them “a boost,” and this probably is notin their imagination. As a stimulant, caffeine doescause a small, short-lived rise in blood pressure,which is most noticeable to those who have not hadcaffeine for a period of time. Yet, even that surge—ifit can even be called that—might be no more thanthat associated with everyday exercise or animatedconversation.

The Caffeine
CAFFEINE has been called “America’s most popu-
lar drug,” and for good reason. More than 90 percent of us consume it in one form or another every single Debate
I, for one, love my morning cup of coffee. But I’m inwardly disturbed by all the negative talk I keep hearing about caffeine. Indeed, this wonderful plant product has been getting almost as much bad press as are hooked. “Caffeine is anaddictive drug,” says the web site Still, the nagging question lingers: In a world beset by pollution, asbestos, and saturated fat, is caffeine amphetamines, cocaine and heroinuse to stimulate the brain. On a The
some extreme cases, it seems that to date no clear evidence has linked caffeine to the devel- Palpitations—otherwise known as irregular heartbeats—may occur in some individuals regardless of their caffeine intake. Cholesterol level, too, seems to be unaffected by caffeine.
Scandinavian-brewed coffee. This type has been found to cause a rise in serum cholesterol levels, though this problem can be remedied by filtering the boiled coffee before drinking If you feel like you cannot function without it and must consume it every day, then you are Some claim that caffeine gives them heart- burn. Here too, however, it is difficult to Of course, some would dispute that. There ascertain whether the heartburn is really the is, they claim, a clear difference between result of a strong cup of coffee or simply the something that is “addictive” and somethingthat is just “habit-forming.” Furthermore,coffee drinkers do not require increasingamounts of caffeine over time—a typicaltrait of true addicts. Granted, there are theheadaches that some suffer when they try tocut down or eliminate caffeine from theirdiet. This symptom, however, is clearly in adifferent league from the withdrawal pains ofa cocaine or heroin addict.
Caffeine has been the subject of thousands of research projects, making it one of themost heavily studied commodities of theworld. But the results of these studies—andhow to interpret those results—are hardlyconclusive. Some experts claim that there isno firm data to prove that caffeine is a riskfactor in such problems as breast cancer,colon cancer, bladder cancer, pancreatic can-cer, ulcers, or miscarriage. It has been foundthat a small amount of caffeine is present inthe breast milk of coffee-drinking moms, buteven this does not seem to put infants at anyparticular risk.
increases blood pressure, isn’t this a hazardfor cardiac patients? Though there may be simple thing to do,” he says, “and they knows, the problem could be stress that is unrelated to the meal at all. This is the done, the web site for the “Coffee Science Information Centre” ( states: “confounding factors,” as they are called.
“The results of one paper can never tell the whole story.” So, at least for now, the jury’s still out. Some will claim that your morning cup of coffee is killing you.
Still, some insist that the finger pointing Others will say it’s helping you survive.
is justified, and claim that the least we Perhaps the safest route is moderation, if not cutting down or quitting. Either way, products containing caffeine just to play it one thing is certain: The caffeine debate study of 72 regular coffee drinkers whowere found to produce high levels ofadrenalin and non-adrenalin hormones.
“Drinking four or five cups of coffee aday makes the body act as if it is underconstant stress,” says the BBC news report. Professor James Lane, who tookpart in the research, says that even moder-ate amounts of caffeine can make a per-son feel as if he or she is having a verystressful day. “If you combine the effectsof real stress with the artificial boost instress hormones that comes from caf-feine,” Lane says, “then you have com-


Pii: s1369-5266(00)00193-x

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