Literatus: Caffeine in regulatory radar

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I DRINK coffee occasionally—when I feel a need for a little boost in the head after a mentally tiring day. It often does the trick. Moreover, the nice, cool and relaxing environment in cafes today makes drinking coffee outside the home so tempting too.

In this age of casual coffee drinking, my attention about the side effects I get from it has not wavered. The two most common (side effects) are gastric irritation and trembling. Hand trembling and a sense of restlessness come when I down three sachets of instant coffee within just three hours.

Despite the current “good for the heart” campaign, these adverse reactions always give me second thought on the health effects of coffee. For one, it cannot be good for the heart if a person’s heartbeat increases (more than 100 beats per minute or bpm, as opposed to the healthy 72 bpm or below) after drinking coffee. Medline Plus reported that at least three irregular heartbeats in a row accompany this tachycardia (or a heart rate that exceeds the normal range). Add trembling to that.


The alarm on caffeine has been set off lately though. Health regulators, particularly in the United States, started investigating caffeine for its adverse effects midyear last year.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified caffeine as Gras, or generally recognized as safe, with a toxic dose at over 10 grams for an average adult.

The most concentrated caffeine drink today—espresso coffee—has 1.69 to 2.25 g/liter.

The US National Institutes of Health issued this statement: “[Too] much caffeine can make you restless, anxious, and irritable… keep you from sleeping well and cause headaches, abnormal heart rhythms, or other problems. If you stop using caffeine, you could get withdrawal symptoms.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association included caffeine in its 2012-2013 List of Banned Substances under the heading of “Drugs and Procedures Subject to Restrictions” at positive urine test of more than 15 micrograms caffeine/mL sample.

The equivalents University Athletic Association of the Philippines and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have no readily accessible disclosure on its rule in caffeine use.

Lastly, the American Psychiatric Association recognized four caffeine-induced disorders in its 1994 issue of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fourth edition): caffeine intoxication, caffeine-induced sleep disorder, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder and caffeine-related disorder not otherwise specified.

Obviously, the issue surrounds frequency and intake dose. A WebMD article summarized the addictive effect of caffeine: It “does cause mild physical dependence,” but “doesn’t threaten your physical, social, or economic health the way addictive drugs do.” Does it? Do you confirm by experience?


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 15, 2014.


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