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Handle with Care: Popular Stimulants

Downside of Caffeine

  • Overstimulated central nervous system, leading to increased risk of heart attacks, irritability, insomnia, and rapid and irregular heartbeats.
  • Elevated blood pressure (hypertension).
  • Elevated blood-sugar and cholesterol levels.
  • Heartburn and other gastrointestinal problems.
  • Fibrocystic breast disease.
  • Diuresis (excessive urination), which can lead to dehydration.
  • Increased risk of birth defects if used during pregnancy.
  • Contains tars, phenols, and other carcinogens, as well as traces of pesticides and toxic chemicals used in the growing and extraction processes.
At best, we can say that coffee has minor short-term mental and emotional benefits but that these are not sustained. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry observed 1,500 psychology students divided into four categories depending on their coffee intake: abstainers; low consumers (1 cup or equivalent a day); moderate (1-5 cups a day); and high (5 cups or more a day). On psychological testing, the moderate and high consumers had higher levels of anxiety and depression than the abstainers, and the high consumers had higher incidence of stress-related medical problems coupled with lower academic performance.

The bottom line? Drink coffee in moderation, if at all.

Tea: Not So Refreshing
Tea (Camellia sinensis) has been a favorite stimulant in many countries for centuries. Black tea is prepared by the initial slow drying of the fresh leaves, which allows them to begin to ferment, while for green tea, the leaves are dried quickly. Both contain caffeine.

The drinking of tea began in ancient Asia, and by the seventeenth century, the beverage had been adopted as Britain's standard refresher. By the early nineteenth century, as we've seen, tea had become a highly sought-after stimulant in the newly industrializing society, providing energy to goad the workers into faster production. And as tea required lots of sugar to enhance its bitter taste, the economy got another boost from sugar sales.

Tea continues to be a significant pick-me-up and social ritual in Britain, where tea consumption is four times that of coffee. In the United States, the figures are reversed. You can guess why by recalling the historic Boston Tea Party, which preceded the American Revolution. Rather than pay a tea tax to their oppressors across the sea, the colonists dumped boxes of imported tea from British trade ships into the harbor – and haven't had much taste for it since.

Tea's stimulating effects come from the same compounds as in coffee – caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline. Because of different methods of preparation and the many varieties of the cultivated plant, the average caffeine content of tea ranges widely from about 1 percent to more than 4 percent. The downsides of drinking tea are mentioned below. However, green tea does have some redeeming features.

Downside of Tea A strong cup of tea contains as much caffeine as a weak cup of coffee. Also, the tannin content of tea interferes with the absorption of minerals.

The Cola Generation
Cola drinks contain about one-quarter to one-half of the caffeine found in a weak cup of coffee. One cola drink even contained small amounts of coca (cocaine) in its original formula, hence the name, Coca-Cola. We also have non-cola caffeinated soft drinks such as Mountain Dew. Today's drinks generally contain sugar and colorings, which are also stimulants. Maybe worse, diet drinks contain the artificial sweetener aspartame (Nutrasweet), which can be toxically overstimulating to the brain. We have seen people who thought they were "going crazy" with jitters, insomnia, and disordered thinking magically recover when they stopped drinking diet sodas. Ironically, although touted as a diet product, these drinks can actually cause weight gain. See http://www.dorway.com/blayenn.html for scientific information on aspartame.

More recently, new soft drinks have been introduced that push up the levels of caffeine they contain, boosting both their kick and addictiveness. Shades of the tobacco industry! With names such as Jolt or Red Bull, their caffeine content can equal or even surpass that of a cup of coffee. Children and young people are drinking large amounts of caffeinated soft drinks, especially relative to their weight, exposing their developing brains and bodies to a hazardous substance. Never mind illicit drugs – junk food and caffeinated drinks can lead to serious health problems and addictions in children.

Downside of Colas

  • Contain caffeine – with all the attendant risks.
  • Sugar and coloring are added stimulants; aspartame in diet colas can toxically overstimulate the brain.
  • Newer cola drinks aimed at young people have even higher levels of caffeine.
Caffeine Buzzometer (Caffeine Levels of Common Products)
Product Caffeine Content (per serving)
Coca-Cola Classic 350 ml (12 fl oz) 45 mg
Diet Coke 350 ml (12 floz) 45 mg
Red Bull 250 ml (8.3 fl oz) 80 mg
Hot cocoa 150 ml (5 fl oz) 10 mg
Coffee, instant 150 ml (5 fl oz) 40-105 mg
Espresso, cappuccino, or latte (single) 30-50 mg
Coffee, filter 150 ml (5 fl oz) 110-150 mg
Coffee, Starbucks grande 500 mg
Coffee, decaffeinated 150 ml (5 fl oz) 0.3 mg
Tea 150 ml (5 fl oz) 20-100 mg
Green tea 150ml (5 fl oz) 15-30 mg
Chocolate cake (1 slice) 20-30 mg
Bittersweet chocolate (1 oz) 5-35 mg
Excedrin (2 tablets) 130 mg
NoDoz (2 capsules) 200 mg
Dexatrim (1 500-mg capsule) 80 mg


From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright © Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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