The Exhaustion Epidemic

When you awake to the annoying buzz in your ear, is your first thought to reach for a cup of Joe? Have you ever picked up a caffeinated beverage when you were feeling lethargic? Could it be that you are addicted to caffeine? Then you are just one of about 80 percent of the world’s population who consume the most commonly used psychoactive drug on a daily basis.

“I actually can’t get through my day without caffeine, I tried,” said Amber Costello. “I get moody and my mental clarity is deficient.” Like most people, Costello needs caffeine throughout the day especially right before work, where she is a part time server at the fine dining restaurant, Michelle’s. “If I don’t have a cup before work, then I already know it’s not going to be a good night.”

Our dependency on stimulants can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution where workers were fueled by tea, coffee and tobacco to meet the long hours and grueling demands of the industry. The ever-increasing consumption of these stimulants continued into the twentieth century after the introduction of sugar and chocolate in Europe and North America; and continues to grow in the new millennium.

Caffeine, like most stimulants affects the emotional center of the brain, the limbic system, to produce the experience of pleasure. However, research has shown that as addictive as caffeine is suggested to be, there is evidence that it is not addictive. It has been argued that the mere taste and social pleasure is the main reason many people consume caffeinated beverages in the first place. How many times have you passed by a local coffee shop and seen people having idle chit-chat, studying, or having a casual business meeting? The coffee shop atmosphere and the aroma of espresso create a relaxing and enjoyable environment. Caffeinated beverages are thought to be consumed by habit, not need, and do not pose any threat to society.

“Usually around finals week my caffeine level increases as I cram for exams,” said HPU student Anne Martin. “Other than that I only have about 2 cups of tea a week.”

Some evidence suggests an elevation in stress hormones from caffeine consumption could pose a cardiovascular risk, but research has shown no direct link between caffeine consumption and heart disease. In fact, studies have shown a protective effect against heart disease in caffeinated beverages in the elderly population. The reason may be due to the kind of beverage that is being consumed. Coffee and tea were not associated with high blood pressure and arrhythmias, whereas soft drinks were. There has been no confirmed link between drinking coffee and cardiovascular disease, although people react differently to caffeine. Where some may react to high blood pressure it is said to be short lived, lasting no more than a few hours, which is comparable to climbing a flight of stairs.

There is however too much of a good thing. Evidence suggests that high caffeine intake may accelerate bone loss. One study has shown that elderly postmenopausal women who consume more than 300 mg of caffeine per day lost more bone in their spine than those who have less than 300 mg of caffeine per day. On the other hand, women can reverse this effect by simply adding milk to their beverage.

As you order your double shot, non-fat, ice blended mocha with whipped cream, consider how many cups you had that day and if it was for need or simple pleasure. As research suggests, there are no harmful long-term side effects from drinking caffeinated beverages, but as Tony Sinclair says, “always in moderation”.

By Brittany Matsushita

Image by Stephanie Padilla

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