Columns

Corvese ’15: The buzz about caffeine

By
Opinions Columnist
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

If you can, please take a moment from your espresso-fueled working binge to hear me out.

Caffeine is not an unfamiliar substance to college students. There are swanky coffee shops on every corner. Convenience store coolers are filled with energy drinks, all of which brag about their high caffeine contents. And you’d be hard-pressed to enter a student’s room that does not have a coffee maker. Rarely do we think twice about our reliance on caffeine, as it has become fuel to power us through our high-maintenance, work-intensive lifestyles.

Recently, our attention has been drawn to the notorious substance as five deaths have been associated with Monster Energy drinks, which boast of almost 300 milligrams of caffeine in a 24-ounce can. But that is just an estimate, as many energy drinks are not required to list how much caffeine they contain under the nutritional information. The Food and Drug Administration is still investigating these deaths, and representatives from Monster deny any correlation between the drink and the deaths. Just like a cup of coffee, this should serve as a wake-up call about some habits we might not consider the effects of.

Let it be said that in no way am I against caffeine – I recently became a cup-a-day coffee drinker – medium roast, skim milk and Splenda, please. 

Consuming reasonable amounts of caffeine is okay. A cup of coffee can give us a short burst of energy to get us through those morning classes. But as the amount of caffeine consumed increases, so does the severity of the effects. First comes jitteriness. Afterwards comes increased heart rate and irritability. These can escalate to abdominal pain and tremors and, as potentially associated with Monster, heart attack and death. Plus, many people take medication or have underlying health conditions that can be aggravated by caffeine.

Obviously, your medium iced latte is not going to kill you. But five or six can cause problems. Downing cups of coffee and energy drinks is an easy solution to powering through a paper that’s due the next morning, but relying solely on caffeine is detrimental to health. There are plenty of other ways to remain energetic enough to be productive. Though many busy college students have trouble accepting it, sleep is very important to remaining healthy. So next time you are tempted to grab a couple of shots of espresso from Starbucks, may I suggest a power nap instead?

Caffeinated drinks are also associated with another aspect of college life: drinking. The Red Bull and vodka has become a bartending staple, and other sweet energy drinks can make booze much more palatable. But most notable of these drinks is caffeinated malt beverage Four Loko, which made headlines a few years ago after officials noted the high alcohol and caffeine content. This combination can produce a dangerous effect, as caffeine can reduce feelings of drunkenness, potentially causing a person to drink more than they should. The University of Rhode Island was one of the first schools to outlaw the drink on campus, and many colleges and universities shortly followed in an attempt to prevent students from drinking the beverage. Since then, the caffeinated drink has been effectively banned in the United States and replaced with a caffeine-free version.

Is Prohibition-esque regulation the solution to our caffeine problem, be it in Monster or Four Loko? I don’t think so. No laws, no matter how strict, will prevent absolutely everyone from consuming caffeine. Preventative measures can even make the banned drinks more attractive to rebellious youth. Besides, I believe it is up to the individual to choose what they put into their body. That said, what is most important is awareness of the effects of what is being consumed. Though at times caffeine is an innocent chemical used for an afternoon perk, it can quickly transform into a dangerous substance that threatens one’s health.

At this point, it is unlikely that laws affecting drinks like Four Loko will change. But those laws should not be a precedent for something such as the suggested banning of Monster. The choices of a few do not reflect the whole, and many of us will and should continue to consume caffeine responsibly. As the consumer, we have the potential to make an informed choice – albeit a slightly caffeinated one.

You may now return to your large caramel macchiato.

 

 

Gabriella Corvese ’15 also enjoys a nice cup of Earl Grey tea and can be reached at gabriella_corvese@brown.edu.