Beyond the kick of caffeine

Caffeine is the major drug additive in today's food supply, and it is fast becoming a major concern for the Food and Drug Administration. As a food additive, caffeine is used to give you that zest for life, or the zing, as the advertisements so aptly put it. It is a strong stimulant to the central nervous system and is closely related to chemicals that become part of DNA, the genetic material of our cells. In the last several years, many studies have been done on the results of large caffeine intake, and interesting information is available to the public. Caffeine has been linked to birth defects, insomnia, anxiety and hypertension and fibrocystic breast disease with an increased risk of heart attack and cancer. And add to that children born with birth defects, and you have plenty of reasons to drop your caffeine habit.

Pregnant women do not live in laboratory-type conditions, so it is difficult to test them completely free of outside environment. But the FDA has tested laboratory animals and found a definite link between the equivalent of six cups or more of coffee per day and birth defects, such as missing toes and fingers. Therefore, the FDA has advised pregnant women to avoid caffeine-containing foods and drugs, or to use them sparingly.

Since World War I, the United States has been substituting coffee for tea as the most popular drink, and it has become our major source of caffeine. Now, however, we have discovered soda pop, and with it a new source of the drug. A 12-ounce can of some types of sodas contain as much as one-third of the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. The impact of this much caffeine on a child is the same as one cup of coffee for an adult. Not a good start for our children in a learning environment.

When cola beverages were first introduced, the FDA required them to add caffeine. But in the past few years, soda manufacturers have introduced caffeine into other flavors of soda, including lemon lime, orange and apple drinks. Here are some examples taken from the individual companies and the Journal of the American Dietetic Association: Dr. Pepper, 61 milligrams of caffeine; Mellow Yellow, 52; and Mountain Dew, 49. Caffeine stimulates and forms a dependency on the drug, causing product sales to rise. Since children are consuming the largest amounts of soda pop, it seems logical that caffeine use should be restricted in them.

Another area of large caffeine consumption is drugs. Excedrin has 65 mg, Dristan 161.2 mg and Vivarin 200 mg - more than a cup of coffee. Check with your doctor about the drugs you take and read the labels on the over-the-counter drugs.

Consider the fact that coffee is an upper that starts your day and keeps you high. It begins to take more and more to keep you high so that what once was one cup at breakfast becomes 10 cups throughout the day. Some people are not affected by caffeine, but most people feel some caffeine jitters when too much is consumed. When you totally eliminate caffeine products from your diet, you may experience withdrawal headaches, and it may take as much as three months to rid your body of the effects. But it is worth the effort and a plus for your overall health.

n Jerry Vance is owner of The Sweat Shop/Wet Sweat. She offers classes through Carson City Recreation and Aquatics Center and is a fitness instructor for the Senior Center.


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