Caffeine… the most innocuous of stimulants. What began with tea and coffee over a thousand years ago has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry of Caramel Frappuccinos and Monster energy drinks. Between coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks, a majority of Americans consume some form of caffeine on a regular basis. What’s healthy and what’s not? What poses a health risk, and what exactly is in the drinks that make them so unhealthy? Misperceptions abound, and it is essential with something so pervasive in our culture today that we confront them.
Some people drink caffeinated beverages because they enjoy them, while others drink them for that familiar jolt they provide. Whether it’s to wake up in the morning, or to continue to study attentively at 2 a.m., caffeinated beverages are an invaluable asset for any college student. All caffeinated beverages are not created equal, however. Some have more caffeine, some have less. Some have naturally occurring caffeine, while others have it added artificially. Most caffeinated beverages are loaded with sweeteners, be it high-fructose corn syrup or regular sugar. Energy drinks are the worst, with tons of chemicals, huge amounts of sugar and a bevy of other additives.
When isolating caffeine from the beverages it is found in, there are mixed results. On the plus side, it provides that burst of energy one might need at any point in the day. It can be the difference between a lackluster workout and an amazing workout. It also can lead to sleeplessness, anxiety or shaking. Worst of all for the millions of caffeine addicts are the potential ramifications of withdrawal. Symptoms can include searing headaches, drowsiness, depression and irritability. Luckily, the symptoms tend to go away rather quickly. Some scientists believe caffeine can increase blood pressure or lead to heart disease, but the majority of evidence points to no long-term adverse effects on healthy people.
If the side effects were as bad as the benefits are good, then obviously caffeine would not be as popular as it is. But energy drinks and soda aside, some caffeinated foods and beverages are said to have seemingly magical health benefits. Harvard researchers analyzed data on 126,000 people over 18 years, and studied the effects of coffee on their overall health. They found that drinking one to three cups of coffee daily can reduce the risk of diabetes by single digits. Drinking six cups per day lowered the chances by 54 percent for men and 30 percent for women, as compared to those not indulging in java. Coffee consumption has been shown to potentially reduce the risk of Parkinson’s Disease by up to 80 percent! The constant among the thousands of studies on coffee’s health benefits shows the more you drink, the more you lower your risk for these potentially life-threatening diseases. But drinking that much coffee is not something most doctors would confidently endorse.
Coffee has another stunning ability, which is especially salient for UCSB students. Tomas DePaulis, a research scientist at Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Coffee Studies, says, “People who smoke and are heavy drinkers have less heart disease and liver damage when they regularly consume large amounts of coffee, compared to those who don’t.” So the more you binge, the more coffee you should indulge in. Seems paradoxical, doesn’t it? Nobody is sure what these health benefits can be attributed to, be it the caffeine, the antioxidants or some other as-of-yet unidentified property of coffee beans. Despite the side effects, most recent studies have shown coffee does not have any long-term adverse effects on healthy people.
Conservative estimates peg 108 million Americans as regular coffee drinkers, but the number is probably closer to 150 million. The consensus, as is so often the case, seems rather muddled. Not many doctors will advise you to drink six cups of coffee a day, but not many will advise you to cut out the one or two cups you drink, either.
These health benefits, many of which are also found in tea, are linked to plain coffee. The majority of drinks found at Starbucks — and almost all sodas and energy drinks — have tons of other ingredients that are wholly unhealthy. So, drinking coffee in its pure state can be a boon to your health, but don’t overdo it — especially with the Caramel Frappuccinos.