Should The Government Stay Out of Your Latte?

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You may have heard the sad news recently: a 16 year old boy died from an arrhythmia that occurred from ingesting too many caffeinated stimulants.  The lethal combination included a large Mountain Dew, a latte from McDonald’s and an energy drink, all within 2 hours. The tragedy has increased awareness for many families as well as regulatory agencies. Should health agencies regulate the amount of caffeine put into coffee and energy drinks, in the same manner that they regulate tobacco? They are considering restrictions and even a ban.  Just FYI, most energy shots also contain guarana and ginseng or other stimulants.

I don’t want the Establishment having any say-so about the amount of caffeine in my caramel macchiato or Red Bull.  How do you feel?  Should the government be able to control your latte?

It’s understood when you drink one of these or take a Vivarin that you’re going to feel increased clarity and possibly an energy jolt if you’re sensitive.  That’s the point of stimulants, and most people use them responsibly because they know the effects of misuse can be unpleasant or even dangerous.  Abuse of energy drinks containing caffeine and other stimulants will spark tremors, hypertension, cardiac palpitations, urinary incontinence, appetite suppression, and in some cases a sense of anxiety or panic.

Caffeine is a drug, no doubt about it. Oftentimes we think of it is as a food because most caffeine-containing items are beverages.

In researching a product I have in development, last week I consumed what amounted to  800 mg of pure coffeeberry fruit extract all at once, and then over 8 hours, doubled the amount.  My head buzzed for a few hours, and I was slightly nauseous but since I’m used to caffeine, I knew I would be just fine. I did not combine it with any other stimulants or coffee, nor did I engage in any activity. I just laid down for the day to see how I felt, because I was trying to find the perfect balance of alertness without jitters,to find what I feel would be perceived as an excessive (versus safe) amount.  I always take what I write about or formulate before I suggest it to you.  (Along those lines, remind me one day to tell you the story about horse chestnut extract…)

Here are a few of my thoughts on caffeinated drinks:

  • I think it’s horrible that certain companies have marketing campaigns aimed directly at adolescents.
  • I also think the manufacturers of these beverages should accept some blame and stop increasing caffeine levels just to get a jump on their competitor and come up with their next marketing shtick.
  • There is a degree of personal accountability just as there is with alcohol.  When you drink too much alcohol, there is a natural consequence of feeling sick and hungover. Sometimes the consequence is not so obvious with caffeine.
  • One challenge that parents face is that cappuccinos, energy shots, Mountain Dew and others are all legal substances (as they should be) so abuse of them is common due to easy access.

Some people feel that caffeine is a strong and potentially dangerous stimulant that should be regulated by the government.  I have a pharmacist’s perspective so for me, knowing that pure caffeine doesn’t even come close to prescription ADHD stimulants such as methylphenidate or the famous combo drug which consists of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, governmental regulation would be a very heavy hand. (Amphetamine, incidentally, is known on the street as “speed” or “whizz.”) These drugs are dispensed to kids by the millions every day and suddenly a Monster’s a problem?!  Or a mocha latte?  Do you get what I’m saying here?

I do know, however, that caffeine impacts certain people worse than others, such as children or the elderly, or those with vascular compromise (known or unknown). Caffeine is metabolized more slowly by all the above groups and will raise blood pressure and cause arrhythmias more frequently.

If you have teenagers, or an older relative who consumes large doses of caffeine regularly, have open conversations with them about this.  With teens, their peers are encouraging abuse of these drinks in order to increase alertness and ‘smartness’, especially before exams.  And with older adults, caffeine might be what they need to get them through the day. It’s sad but true.  Caffeine can be a beautiful thing, but it can also be harmful in large amounts to certain groups of people.