Is caffeine a new gateway drug? Medical News Today has recently raised concerns about the level of caffeine to be found in some “energy” drinks, a soft drink market which targets primarily school aged children and young adults.
Performance enhancing drinks are not new. The trend towards consumption of manufactured drinks intended to boost performance in sport and as a recovery aid for illness took off in the 1970’s, with products such as Lucozade and Gatorade. These products consist of flavored water with added sugar and essential minerals such as sodium, potassium and phosphates.
These early forerunners of the modern day energy drinks are not necessarily harmful in themselves, taken in moderation. However, whenever food chemicals are selectively removed from their natural source the modifying effects of related chemicals are lost. Extraction of chemicals and ingestion always has the potential to create chemical imbalance and disruption to natural biochemical processes in the body.
The big problem with modern day energy drinks is that most now rely exclusively upon the drug caffeine to provide the “energy” boost. Energy drinks which proclaim themselves to be calorie and carbohydrate free contain none of the sugar that traditionally provided the energy boost. In many cases, you are getting an extremely high dose of caffeine with nothing else except water flavored with herbal extracts – some of which are stimulants.
Caffeine is commonly consumed in beverages such as coffee and tea. Whilst coffee beans in their natural state contain quantities of beneficial phenols, natural coffee is very bitter. As a result we prepare our coffee for drinking by roasting it. The higher temperature and longer the roasting process – the more toxic byproducts are to be found in coffee. Coffee roasting reduces the caffeine content but produces toxic hydrocarbons. Many of the aromatic flavors that we prize in our dark brown roasted coffee are in fact highly toxic.
Cool drinks are only supposed to have 71 mg of caffeine per 12 ounce serve according to FDA regulations. Energy drinks fall through a crack in the legislation and don’t have to display their caffeine content. Energy drinks on the market vary between 50mg up to around 500mg of caffeine in a single can.
Extremely high levels of caffeine and habitual use leads to tolerance – it can easily lead to addiction. Caffeine acts on the dopamine, serotonin and endorphin receptors of the brain in much the same way as stimulant drugs of addiction. It is no great step for a caffeine addict to become interested in drugs which create a similar and enhanced effect.
The effects of caffeine raise blood pressure and the heart rate – people with too much caffeine in them can feel lightheaded, chest pains around the heart and nervous agitation. Whilst these drinks are marketed as being for occasional use – to support periods of intense activity – it has been found that many school children routinely drink several cans a day.
Just as early cannabis use is a predictor of later drug use, so children who use caffeine to get high are considered to be at risk of moving on to stimulant drug abuse.
Modern day society is so removed from nature that we seem to be in another world. Surely the natural way of life is for kids to get their stimulation and exercise needs met by playing and enjoyment of life – getting their energy from good food. Something in society is very drastically wrong when we have a lot of obese and depressed children sitting around, guzzling energy drinks.