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Pros and Cons of the Caffeine Craze

Caffeine drinks are trendy, but are there some downsides? WebMD gets the perspective of experts.

Emerging Dangers continued...

One of those new energy drinks, the previously mentioned Cocaine, is triggering protests not only for its name, but also because it contains far more caffeine and energy-boosting ingredients than competitors. Najee Ali, a Los Angeles activist who runs Project Islamic Hope, a national civil rights organization, has called for a boycott of the drink.

"It sends the wrong message to young, impressionable children," he says. "When you look at what is actually inside the drink, we have a greater concern. The drink is unhealthy. It has a lot of caffeine."

On its web site, the makers of Cocaine point out that consumers know the difference between an energy drink and a controlled substance.

Consumers Beware

"Hidden" caffeine is a growing danger, say scientists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit health advocacy organization. In 1997, the CSPI petitioned the FDA to label the caffeine content of foods, noting that the amount of caffeine varies widely among food products.

The caffeine content of 12-ounce soft drinks, for instance, varies from none to about 60 milligrams. "CSPI is in support of labels that tell the amount, in milligrams, of caffeine in foods and drinks," says spokeswoman Patti Truant.

No definitive action has been taken on the CSPI petition. Earlier this year, Neal D. Fortin, an attorney and professor of law at Michigan State University College of Law in East Lansing, and his food and drug law class also petitioned the FDA, asking for the same labeling requirements.

Even decaf coffee may contain caffeine, according to a University of Florida study published in the October issue of the Journal of Analytical Toxicology. Nearly all decaf contains some caffeine, the researchers reported, so that if someone drinks five to 10 cups of decaf a day, their caffeine intake could equal that in a cup or two of regular coffee.

So how to tread the line between moderate intake and too much?

"I think it has to be individualized," says Lane. "Some people are very sensitive, they can't even have a soft drink. Some people can drink coffee and fall right asleep. In general, people need to be aware of the kind of adverse effects caffeine can have. And if they are experiencing those, cut down or cut out caffeine."

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Reviewed on October 17, 2006

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