Sunday, 26 May 2013

Coffee addiction: Do people consume too much caffeine?

Tea, coffee beans, energy drink, espresso maker, cans of energy drinks, coffee 
US officials are investigating the safety of caffeine in snacks and energy drinks, worried about the "cumulative impact" of the stimulant - which is added to a growing number of products. Is our tea and coffee-fuelled society too dependent on the world's favourite drug?
The bubbling kettle, the aroma from the mug, the first bitter mouthful of the morning.
It's a ritual without which the working day would be, for millions of people, frankly horrifying.
Caffeine is, according to New Scientist, the planet's most popular "psychoactive drug." In the United States alone, more than 90% of adults are estimated to use it every day.
But now even the US - home of Coca-Cola, Starbucks and the 5-Hour Energy shot - is questioning the wisdom of adding it to everyday foodstuffs like waffles, sunflower seeds, trail mix and jelly beans.
In a statement, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) highlighted the "unfortunate example" of Wrigley chewing gum producing packs of eight sticks which each contained as much caffeine as half a cup of coffee. Subsequently, Wrigley said it would "pause" production of the product
"On the plus side, coffee is known to be packed full of antioxidants, which stop other molecules oxidising and producing free radicals. "Women who drink two or more cups of coffee a day are less likely to get depressed, other research suggests.
"However previous studies have linked high caffeine intake to raised cholesterol and short-term high blood pressure."The agency is also looking at highly-caffeinated energy drinks, and said it was concerned about the "cumulative impact" of adding stimulants to products.
According to the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of people seeking emergency treatment after ingesting energy drinks doubled to more than 20,000 in 2011.
However, the energy drink industry says its products are safe and insists there is no proof of a link with any harmful reactions.
There have been documented cases of fatal overdoses caused by "caffeine toxicity", though these are very rare. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University, studying its addictive properties, found that withdrawal symptoms included tiredness, headaches, difficulty concentrating, muscle pain and nausea.
But there is far from any kind of scientific consensus that caffeine use is harmful. A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health suggested that "coffee drinking doesn't have any serious detrimental health effects" and that drinking up to six cups a day was "not associated with increased risk of death from any cause".
In moderation, caffeine may have some positive effects. Research suggests it could be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer and breast cancer. A recent study linked drinking coffee and tea with a lower risk of type two diabetes.
As a result, the FDA has pledged to "determine what is a safe level" of caffeine use.
The agency's move has been welcomed by those who fear caffeine is already encroaching too much into our daily lives - often in products where it may not be expected.
"Many people just aren't aware of how much caffeine they are taking," says Lynne Goldman, dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.
As a result, she says, they could unwittingly create problems for themselves with insomnia, indigestion, or their blood pressure.
It's especially worrying for parents, who can find it hard to regulate their children's intake.