Counting caffiene

Caffeine lovers are everywhere. Whether young or old, many enjoy a hot cup of coffee or an energy drink to start the day. But throughout the scientific and medical community, the increasing awareness of caffeine’s negative effects is alarming for many caffeine drinkers.

Many of these loyal caffeine drinkers are waking up to their morning cup of coffee and asking themselves, “Do I actually know what caffeine is?” Caffeine is a chemical found in coffee beans and leaves, tea leaves and guarana berries. Caffeine itself can cause anxiety, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, insomnia, dehydration, muscle tremors and other symptoms. These are just the immediate responses to caffeine. 

Long term side effects can include tooth and gum decay, harm to the kidney and gallstones, liver damage, stunted growth of the nervous system and heart damage. “Caffeine is a drug, just like using marijuana, meth or any of that. You’re altering your body,” Bailie Hansen, the tenth grade biology teacher, said.

 According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), 30 to 50 percent of teens drink energy drinks, even though the recommended amount of caffeine for teens is none. The average amount of caffeine in one 16 oz. Kickstart energy drink is 92 milligrams.

“They don’t have a limit on it. I’ve had kids in my class who have had five Kickstarts sitting at their table, and they’ll drink three of them in an hour and a half. That’s so terrible for your body,” Hansen said.

Energy drinks not only have an excess of caffeine, but an excess of sugar. Just one energy drink can contain 54 to 62 grams of sugar. That is over the maximum amount (36 grams) of sugar one can intake in a day.

“Carbohydrates are our energy source. We need sugars, yes, but there’s healthier sources to get sugar for energy. You don’t need caffeine for energy,” Hansen said.

The afternoon is the worst time of day to drink caffeine, but it is also one of the most common times. It can give a boost during physical activities during or after school. Drinking caffeine increases alertness, but has never been linked to improving muscle strength, speed or improving skills. Caffeine can increase muscle tremors and cause less control over fine motor skills, for example: writing, using scissors, typing, etc.

Caffeine is a drug, like any other. Caffeine creates a dependence, making it hard for drinkers to quit. Needing caffeine everyday to keep one awake is a clear sign of caffeine dependence. The real truth to caffeine is that it causes sleep problems.

“I don’t sleep at night, so I need the caffeine to be able to be alert. Also, Monster just tastes good,” junior Camryn Hart said. 

Dependence isn’t bad just because you can’t stop drinking caffeine; it’s also bad because it isn’t cost effective. Energy drinks aren’t cheap. Per 20 oz. can, energy drinks can cost upwards of $4. In most schools, there are vending machines that sell soda and energy drinks, which is how many teens start their addiction.

“Capitalism has created such a difference in prices of stuff, but it’s easier to make the crappy food than it is to go out plant something, let it grow and then harvest it,” Hansen said. 

Michelle Obama’s Healthy Initiative, which came out in 2010, limits how much sugar is allowed in the diets of children. This means that dessert items aren’t given out as much in regular school lunches. Instead, schools switched to having snack bars and selling cookies, chips and sodas. This may limit the amount of sugar in the products that are sold, but it doesn’t educate teens why it’s bad. Many kids also have access to stores outside of school.

“I feel like, as a system, we’re kind of letting our kids down by giving them that opportunity to drink all that excess caffeine and drink extra sugar that they don’t need. We’re basically enabling them; we’re not stopping them from doing any of it, by any means,” Hansen said. 

Kids who know the effects of caffeine, drink them because of their taste. Artificial flavors make energy drinks taste good, encouraging those to drink the excess amount of caffeine and sugar.

“I think it’s a mix of not knowing and not caring, even if they do know,” Hansen said. 

Those who don’t know the effects are misled into thinking energy drinks can give them a boost in strength, or are encouraged to drink them because of others.

“A lot of other kids just follow what society does,” Hart said.

Kids often drink energy drinks because it’s what friends and adults in their life do. While parents are known to discourage energy drinks, many still enjoy coffee.

“I know a lot of adults who drink Red Bulls, when they work late,” Hart said. “I drink them quite frequently, but if it were my child drinking them, I would probably say something. I wouldn’t let them drink the amount of Monsters I drink.”

Despite what people may think, coffee isn’t much better than energy drinks. One cup of coffee can contain 95 mg of caffeine. One shot of espresso can hold over 64 mg of caffeine. The amount of sugar may vary, but Starbucks and Scooters both have excessive amounts of sugar in their drinks. A pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks has 50 g of sugar. A medium Caramelicious from Scooters contains 63 g of sugar.

“I think coffee is just as bad, but there’s less sugar in coffee generally. I mean when you think about a lot of Starbucks drinks, they have a ton of sugar,” Hansen said. 

Is there a solution for this caffeine-crazed world? Water is the best solution, though many would have a hard time switching from drinking caffeinated drinks to decaffeinated ones, especially since most sodas and carbonated drinks have caffeine. When one is looking for a treat, it’s hard to find a healthy soda. It’s not as impossible as it seems, though. Sprite, Sierra Mist, and 7 Up all are caffeine-free sodas. The best substitute, however, is plenty of water, a good breakfast and eight hours of sleep. 

 “Eventually, I’ll stop drinking the amount of energy drinks I do. I know I won’t stop completely, I’ll probably have one a week,” Hart said.

People make unhealthy choices everyday, and one cup of coffee will not kill someone. Ultimately, don’t be afraid of caffeine, just be aware of it.