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Concerns about caffeine: A love/hate relationship

By | November 16, 2012 | News

Students stand in line at the Starbucks located in the Henry Madden Library where manager Ricky Serrano says he sees many daily returning customers.
Dalton Runberg / The Collegian

For many Americans, it’s as natural as getting out of bed in the morning – a hot cup of coffee or tea.

Its steamy contents, billowing forth, wisp of fresh scent into the cool air, providing warmth or an energetic kick to start the day.

Because of many products’ commonplace presence, it is often forgotten that coffee, tea, soda –  and the caffeine contained within – can be an addictive substance.

“I haven’t gotten the addiction yet,” Fresno State student Andrew Hoover, a 23-year-old double-major in philosophy and chemistry, joked over a triple-shot of espresso and water around four in the afternoon. “It’s probably better than drinking all that stuff in energy drinks, though.”

That may be true, given recent events relating to popular energy drinks with added energy supplements like vitamin b and taurine – a substance originally isolated from ox bile.

According to The New York Times, 5-hour Energy, described as an energy shot and containing high levels of caffeine and other substances, was mentioned in reports by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of 13 deaths over the last four years.

On top of that, The New York Times reported that the FDA had received more than 90 filings related to 5-hour Energy over that four-year period, with more than 30 mentioning heart attacks or convulsions.

But it’s not the only one. Last month, the FDA acknowledged five death reports that mentioned Monster Energy drinks.

“When you mix high doses of sugar and high doses of caffeine, you’re going to have an effect,” Fresno State psychology professor Michael Botwin said. “And if you look at the cans of any of these energy drinks, you’re going to find that’s exactly what you’re getting.”

However, simply because a product is mentioned in a report does not mean it is responsible for anything; correlation is not causation.

In a statement issued on its website, Living Essentials, LLC, the distributing company for 5-hour Energy, recommended consumers take the suggested dosage and that it was not aware of any deaths caused by its product.

“We recommend … that individuals consume no more than two bottles of 5-hour Energy shots per day, spaced several hours apart,” the statement said. “We also recommend individuals new to 5-hour Energy try half a bottle to start, wait 10 minutes, and consume the rest later.”

While the investigation is ongoing, what remains clear are the effects of caffeine withdrawals.

According to the FDA’s website, caffeine can cause jitters or shakes, insomnia, increased heart rate, uneven heart rhythm, increased blood pressure, headaches, nervousness, dizziness, dehydration and addiction.

One Fresno State student, who preferred to remain nameless, said he felt the effects of caffeine addiction first hand.

“If I don’t have any caffeine for a week or so, I get headaches,” the student said. “I’m irritable, I have dry skin, I can’t concentrate – I just feel disoriented.”

The student, who said he drank two or more “strong” cups of coffee a day, described his choice as a vice.

“I want to stop, but I can’t,” the student said. “I’d call it a love/hate relationship.”

Botwin, who stressed addiction wasn’t his specialty, said that he understood why students need caffeine or other energy boosts, describing himself as a caffeine addict as well.

“A lot of our students are working really, really hard and having trouble keeping ends together,” Botwin said, “and just need some caffeine for a little boost.”

Ricky Serrano, 27, manager of the Starbucks branch inside the Henry Madden Library, said he sees certain faculty and students more than once a day, each day.

“I usually see those return customers and they’re pretty sleepy,” Serrano said. “So they come in and get their kick. They’re familiar faces. You’re on a first-name basis with them.”

Serrano said that he had never seen a customer acting negatively or demonstrating other effects of caffeine withdrawal but would advise anyone feeling the effects to drink water – the same solution recommended by the FDA.

“Everything needs to be in moderation,” Serrano said. “So if someone feels like they’ve had too much caffeine, they should drink water to rehydrate themselves.”

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