A caffeinated menace

Drinking too many caffeinated beverages can pose long-term health risks.

by Courtney Johnson

I, like many college students, rely too much on caffeine to keep myself alert on the days when I feel like I am literally dragging my feet to class. On these days, my eyelids are heavy, my body does not want to leave my bed and I find it very hard to concentrate on schoolwork. Late study nights in the library and early mornings at my desk get the best of me, and I often find myself over-fatigued. I usually try to fix this by brewing a hot pot of coffee in the morning to give myself a jump start to a successful day. 

However, there are certain health risks associated with drinking too many cups of coffee or energy drinks, such as a loss in bone density and potentially damaged nervous systems.  

Sure, the advantages to drinking heavily caffeinated drinks âÄî coffee, tea, energy drinks âÄî might include being able to get through a day full of visiting with friends, interacting with professors, or even a study session at the library. When consumed in moderation, the negative effects are minimal. But the risks and warnings against drinking too much caffeine severely outweigh these benefits.

A hot cup of coffee in the morning is great for getting studentsâÄô brains stimulated and active. It is not uncommon to see students heading toward their morning classes with a coffee. But students may become over-reliant on their morning coffee without entirely realizing it. After all, caffeine is a mildly addictive stimulant.

Sure, I enjoy my daily Americano with a shot of hazelnut and cream. But the caffeine inside this Americano poses a threat to my body. Not only does my body become more reliant on it the more that I drink it; I sometimes find myself craving yet another in the afternoon. Not only does this get expensive, but the chemical composition of the caffeine itself, if not consumed in moderation, could impair the absorption of calcium in my body years down the road.

 Even though there are negative effects to drinking excess amounts of coffee, there are a few positives when consumed in moderation.  In fact, some researchers believe that coffee can actually benefit health. These researchers believe that certain coffee drinkers are less likely to get ParkinsonâÄôs disease, Type 2 diabetes, and even liver cancer. This is because of the high amount of antioxidants found in coffee beans. 

Energy drinks, however, are not as beneficial to oneâÄôs health.  This is mostly due to the sugars and the multiplicity of chemicals in them. Even though some of the most common chemicals in energy drinks include choline, taurine, ginseng and caffeine, there are also a number of chemicals in them that are threatening to the body. These include sodium citrate, benzoic acid and sorbic acid, and excess amounts of sucrose and glucose.

 Associated with these toxins is weight gain from the amount of sugar inside these drinks and the potential impairment of nervous systems due to the synthetic formation of these ingredients.

 If found in their natural state, or if produced naturally by the body, these chemicals are helpful to the body. But, because of the way that they are produced in these drinks, they are hazardous when consumed in large quantities because it reacts differently in the body and there is generally more than what the body knows what to do with.  These hazards are not only a result of the variety of chemicals disguised by the sugary sweetness within, but also because of the load of caffeine inside. The average energy drink can contain up to about 400 mg of caffeine per bottle or can âÄî an amount that goes beyond what is recommended by doctors. 

The Mayo Clinic recommends no more than 200 mg or 300 mg of caffeine per day. That is around four 8-ounce cups of coffee.  Of course, the amount of caffeine in each drink varies, but the risks of drinking too much are all the same. Aside from the commonly expected indicators of drinking excess amounts of caffeine âÄî insomnia and restlessness for example âÄî drinking unhealthy amounts of coffee can actually cause a faster than usual heartbeat and muscle tremors. 

These health risks are unsettling. Now I find myself searching for better and healthier options that will help me to stay focused and not fall asleep in class.

A healthier alternative to energy drinks might be drinking more tea. This mode of acquiring caffeine is less processed and more natural. These teas also contain powerful antioxidants that help to protect cells in the body and prevent cancer. Green tea is also believed to help lower LDL or âÄúbadâÄù cholesterol in the blood. Another benefit? It generally contains less caffeine than coffee per ounce, so drinking more cups of it throughout the course of the day and gradually working up to the suggested limit of caffeine is a healthier option. 

However beneficial these alternatives are, some students prefer drinking coffee and energy drinks. Even though these drinks have some health risks when overindulged in, that does not mean that students canâÄôt have them at all. The overall concern for their health is what students should be concentrating on. Enjoying these beverages in moderation is the best option. I know for a fact that it would be very difficult if I forced myself to stop drinking coffee completely and couldnâÄôt enjoy the occasional Americano from the coffee shop down the street.