Caffeine buzz can take a toll on your health
By Kelly James-Enger | Special to the Tribune
March 2, 2008
Hooked on your morning venti latte? You're not alone. A recent study named
Dr. Danielle McCarthy, a medical
resident in emergency medicine at
"I think the most important thing is [that] caffeine is a drug, and that any drug taken in excess can act on the body like a poison," McCarthy said. "Laypeople and a lot of physicians think of it as a food product, and therefore don't consider it dangerous."
"In low doses, caffeine certainly
does wake you up and makes you more alert -- it even has a bit of a euphoric
effect," said Dr. Timothy Erickson, an attending physician and professor
of emergency medicine and toxicology at
But excessive doses can cause rapid heard rate, jitteriness and elevated blood pressure, which can lead to seizures and cardiac problems. Even young, healthy people have died from caffeine overdose, although it's usually intentional, such as taking a large amount of caffeine pills.
The survey on caffeine consumption
was conducted by Prince Market Research and included coffee, tea, chocolate,
sodas, energy drinks and caffeine pills in 20
So how much caffeine is in your favorite beverage? An average brewed cup of coffee contains about 100 milligrams of caffeine, but other coffee drinks like lattes and espressos can contain double or triple that amount. Eight ounces of Red Bull energy drink contains 76 milligrams of caffeine, while No Name energy drink contains 280 milligrams.
Mega-doses of thousands of milligrams of caffeine are clearly life-threatening, but there's no clear standard for how much caffeine is dangerous. People develop tolerance over time; in other words, the more caffeine you consume regularly, the less of an impact it may have. And energy drinks also can pack more of a wallop than people realize as they often contain guarana, a South American plant that also contains caffeine and basically doubles the caffeine-like effects of the drink, Erickson said.
The practice of mixing energy drinks with alcohol or other drugs can also be dangerous, he warned. "They really ramp you up, and people mix or match [them] with alcohol or whatever else is circulating at the party," Erickson said. "People think caffeine is going to ride them through [the effects of] alcohol or some of the other drugs they take, but many of these drugs can overpower the effects of what we're used to seeing with caffeine."
Combining energy drinks with other powerful stimulants, such as caffeine or methamphetamine, can heighten the drugs' effect.
Even everyday caffeine consumption can dehydrate you, cause stomach problems or cause headaches from withdrawal when you don't consume your usual amount. If you rely on caffeine to keep you going, you may be setting yourself up for a problem later.
"These are high-functioning, well-educated, energetic, really productive people who are just trying to get that added edge, and there's nothing wrong with that," Erickson said. "But what you get into is you need a lot of caffeine to get going in the morning, and then you need a little wine or alcohol to get back down at night -- and pretty soon it comes back to bite you."
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