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What's the buzz about caffeine

November 19, 2002|by Jessica Hanlin

"What? Where am I?" You ask groggily, lifting your throbbing head.

"Oh golly!" You realize you fell asleep over your homework. Now, its 11 p.m., and you haven't even started. So you grab a can of soda and buckle down for a long night of studying.

Everyone has had this experience at least once, if not every night. The culprit?

Too much school work? Procrastination? More than likely. But what makes it all the more difficult for you is the very thing you are looking for to help you out of this pickle - caffeine.

And why not? Caffeine increases alertness, gets you ready to go (and quickly) and can relieve headaches (before causing a monstrous one). Clearly, it can do some pretty crazy stuff to your body. What's so wrong with that?

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Nothing really. Just consider this. Caffeine is a stimulant, having the same effect on your central nervous system as cocaine and heroine, just to a milder degree. Blood vessels in your brain constrict, and blood flow to your muscles increases. Adrenaline is released into your system, implementing the 'flight or fight' action, which is why you suddenly feel alert. Your body thinks you are in danger.

You're really just hyped up. And after about 30 minutes, the "good" effects start to wear off. However, the caffeine is still pumping through your body. And it will for several hours. Caffeine has a 'half-life' of six hours, meaning that only half is gone six hours later, which is why you may have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep even if you had a soda earlier in the afternoon.

A cup of coffee in the morning isn't going to kill you. But just how much would it take to accomplish that? Answer: 10 grams of caffeine has been found to be a lethal dose. But to put it in perspective, most American adults consume about 300 milligrams a day.

But if you think about it, it's very easy to drink more than that. Most colas contain over 50 milligrams of caffeine. Most coffees (although each brew is different) contain well over 100 milligrams. Even coffee ice creams can contain as much as soda. Consumption of more than 600 milligrams of caffeine can cause stomach ulcers, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure and insomnia. How many cups of coffee does it take to get you going?

If it's so bad, why aren't there restrictions to caffeine? Well, believe it or not, there are. In the U.S., the legal limit is 6 milligrams per liquid ounce. Coffee does not fall under these guidelines. And caffeine is still found in teas, medications and chocolate.

Worst of all, you can become addicted to caffeine. After about 24 hours of your last caffeine fix, you get fatigued, then headaches and muscle pains kick in. The only cure? Another soda. Call me uptight, but it sounds like someone has a little "caffeine-ing" problem.

No, it won't stunt your growth. But the sometimes compulsive consumption of anything caffeinated causes calcium loss, nervousness, headaches and sleep loss. On the other hand, it does give you a totally wicked buzz. Not to mention - it's legal.

Jessica Hanlin is a junior at North Hagerstown High School.

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