NEWARK— That morning cup of coffee seems like a boost to the metabolism, but it can be the precursor to a caffeine overdose. While a limited amount of caffeine may have its benefits, excess consumption can produce serious side effects.
“Based on historical data collected by the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System over the last 10 years, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of reported adverse effects from caffeine-related products,” says Dr. Steven Marcus, executive and medical director of NJPIES.
“As with most foods and drinks consumed, moderation is key,” adds Dr. Marcus. “The challenge is keeping track of how much caffeine one consumes. It is very difficult to track consumption, because extra caffeine is added to many food products and beverages, including gum, mints, candy bars and soda, and even lip balm.”
According to youngwomenshealth.org, caffeine is naturally found in the leaves, beans, seeds and fruits of many plants. It is also added to some foods and drinks and some pain relievers such as headache medicine. Caffeine is considered a drug. It works by stimulating the nervous system, resulting in heightened awareness. Having too much caffeine is not healthy, and caffeine can be addictive. Although caffeine is not stored in our bodies, the effects can be felt for up to six hours.
Too much caffeine causes vomiting, severe headaches, a racing heart, loss of sleep, and jitters and seizures. The effects of caffeine can be very dangerous, and the smaller the person, the less the caffeine needed to produce side effects. Poison control centers across the country are seeing an increase in caffeine-related complaints. Many of the cases involve excessive caffeine intake by adults; however, more and more cases now involve the young population, including preteens as young as 12 years old, who have consumed highly caffeinated energy drinks such as Red Bull®, Monster®, Rockstar® and Free Cocaine®. According to KidsHealth.com, experts consider 200-300 mg of caffeine a day to be a moderate amount for adults, which equals approximately three cups of coffee. Teens should limit their consumption to 100 mg daily, and children should get even less. Many of the high-energy drinks exceed that suggested quantity; for example, a 16-ounce serving of Monster energy drink or Red Bull contains 160 mg of caffeine.
Based on a University of Massachusetts Medical School study conducted by toxicologist Richard Church, half of the caffeine-related calls to poison control centers nationwide involve individuals under the age of 19. Experts indicate that the increase in caffeine consumption from this age group can be attributed, in part, to the aggressive marketing efforts of high-energy drink companies in recent years.
Another alarming trend is mixing caffeine-ridden energy drinks with alcohol. Excess ingestion of either of these substances alone can cause adverse side effects, and mixing them is even more problematic, notes Dr. Marcus.
NJPIES leaders urge medical professionals, parents, educators, care givers and the general public to call the toll-free poison center hotline, 1-800-222-1222, to learn more about the risks of caffeine, and to talk to children about the overt and hidden sources of caffeine to establish healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
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