Spilling the tea on caffeine

Jasmine Hou and Pranav Mishra

Whether it’s a morning fix of coffee, a relaxing pot of tea or a refreshing sports drink out on the field, caffeine provides limitless ways to spark and soothe the senses. While some experts cite evidence suggesting that regular consumption of the stimulant can lead to substantial long-term effects, others praise its versatility and point to its potential benefits, such as improving memory and liver conditions. 

Caffeine has been consumed by humans for thousands of years. For instance, the first documented records of tea date back to 3000 B.C. in China, when emperor Shennong was believed to discover the beverage when leaves from a wild tree fell into his pot of boiling water. Other caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, began to appear later in the 16th century when they became popular throughout the Middle-East. These beverages were noteworthy for their psychoactive nature, which essentially means that they were able to affect mental function much like other drugs do today. Today, caffeine is the most widely proliferated psychoactive substance in the world with its global consumption exceeding 100,000 tons per year. To put this into perspective, this amounts to one cup of caffeinated drink for every person in the world every day of the year. 

With such widespread use of caffeine, consumers must understand the possible consequences of the substance.  Several experts have long accused caffeine for its supposed long term physical and psychological effects. According to the Journal of Gastroenterology, even small doses of caffeine can significantly affect stomach function in the long run, as well as accelerate bone loss and the risk of lung disease. But what has been considered even more worrisome is a Neurotherapeutics study conducted in 2011 which showed that caffeine significantly increases risk of anxiety and depression. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration does not place restrictions on caffeine content in beverages, which may further unknowingly damage consumers. 

“In general, I would not encourage teenagers to start any sort of caffeine habit at all,” said English teacher Ms. Harlin. “I didn’t start drinking coffee regularly until my senior year of college. At the end of the day, drinking coffee isn’t just a habit, it’s an addiction. I get a headache when I don’t drink it, or I feel not quite like myself. It’s not the healthiest thing to be dependent on.”

On the other hand, there are equally as many scientists that tout potential benefits of caffeine. Since it is a central nervous system stimulant, caffeine generally helps increase reaction time, wakefulness, concentration and motor coordination. Some studies have also indicated that it may reduce the risk of certain diseases, such as Alzheimers, Parkinsons and kidney stones. 

“Many people I work with experience mixed side-effects from regular consumption of caffeine,” said psychologist Dr. Kanika Shukul. “Yes, it’s undeniable that too much caffeine can cause issues like conception problems, issues with bowel movements and sleep deprivation. However, there is still evidence that caffeine can help sharpen cognitive function. It’s a much needed mood booster when people are heading for work in the morning, or prepping to run a mile on the track. I’d say moderation is key.”

Coffee and tea are the most popular beverages in the world behind wine. Although less popular, other caffeinated drinks, such as sodas, have much higher caffeine contents. To illustrate this fact, most kinds of coffee generally have around 10-60 milligrams per fluid ounce of caffeine, while most energy drinks exceed 120 milligrams per fluid ounce. In an era where working into the night has become commonplace, many students have turned to caffeine to allow them to get through their daily routine.

“There are so many reasons I would consider myself coffee dependent,” sophomore Jodi Au said. “Not only is it the kind of thing I need to work through a long night of homework, but it has also become a social thing. My friends and I go out to grab coffee every Thursday. It’s such a regular part of my routine that I don’t question its side effects.” 

As experiments continue to shed light on the effects of caffeine, it’s safe to say that the arguments for and against it will only continue to brew. While some consider it to be an essential part of their routine, it may not, in the end, be everyone’s cup of tea.