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College students face caffeine addiction

By Katherine Roth
On February 16, 2006

With Starbucks popping up everywhere you turn, it is no wonder that millions of people in the United States are obsessed with caffeine. Staggering statistics state that about 90 percent of Americans adults and 76 percent of American children consume caffeine in one form or another on a daily basis.

The top three sources of caffeine intake are coffee, soft drinks and tea. Caffeine is known medically as trimethylxanthine and is most often used as a cardiac stimulant and also as a mild diuretic, which means it increases urine production.

In most households and college campuses across the United States, people drink it for a boost of energy and to increase the level of alertness to stay awake longer while driving or studying long into the night. It is an addictive drug, and operates the same way as amphetamines, cocaine and heroin, although its effects are milder.

If you have the feeling of not being able to function without a cup of coffee or something else that has a significant amount of caffeine in it, then it is safe to say that you are addicted to caffeine.

Researchers say many Americans do not realize how much caffeine they are actually consuming because manufacturers are only required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to list caffeine as an ingredient on the food or drink label, not the amount of caffeine that is in the product on the nutrition facts. And because this lack of knowledge on the part of the consumer is so prevalent, health risks can come into play.

Caffeine has both short-term and long-term effects. In terms of physiological changes, directly after ingestion, general metabolism, rate of breathing, blood pressure and body temperature increase. The levels of fatty acids in the blood and the gastric acid in the stomach also increase. Caffeine also stimulates brain and behavior. It postpones fatigue, and enhances performance at simple intellectual tasks and at physical work that involves endurance. However, large doses of caffeine can produce headaches, jitteriness, tachycardia, convulsions and even delirium.

The effects of caffeine are extremely clear, researchers say . If ingested before bedtime, it usually delays sleep, shortens the overall amount of sleep and reduces the "depth," or how easily one is roused from sleep.

Long term effects include chronic insomnia, persistent anxiety, depression and stomach ulcers. Caffeine can cause irregular heartbeat and may raise cholesterol levels, but there is no concrete research that has stated that caffeine causes heart disease. The link between caffeine and cancer has also not yet been solidly determined.

What can you do to prevent these health risks? Researchers say that not completely closing oneself off from decaffeinated drinks is a good idea, and possibly switching on and off or mixing half-caffeinated and half-decaffeinated could stop these effects from happening to you.

However, be forewarned: not all decaffeinated products are completely caffeine free. The decaffeination process of coffee and tea removes approximately 97 percent of the caffeine, leaving approximately two-to-five mg in a cup of coffee (A regular cup of coffee contains 40 to 150 mg of caffeine). Researchers also say to drink more water as it has similar effects as caffeine of refreshing the body and giving a small boost of energy.


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