Caffeine and College Students: Coffee vs. Energy Drinks

By Caroline Spivack on March 1, 2013

A cup of coffee to get you through your reading?

Caffeine is the lifeblood of college students. Regardless of how it’s consumed, caffeine and college students share an intimate relationship. Whether it’s providing a quick jolt of energy to stay awake in class, or pulling an all-nighter for a paper, caffeine will do the trick. The drug stimulates our central nervous system which decreases fatigue and increases alertness. Relatively inexpensive, easily accessible and most importantly, legal, caffeine is the wonder drug of which our generation has taken full advantage.

Emerging criticism, however, has sparked debate over the adverse effects of highly caffeinated beverages. As someone who personally drowns them self in all mater of caffeinated beverages, I’m well aware of the caffeine controversy. Energy drinks have recently surged to the forefront of this debate, a position formally occupied by coffee; but when it comes to the healthiest method of delivering caffeine to our bodies, which beverage dominates, and why?

According to a report issued by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, in 2012, 40% of 18 to 24 year olds and 54% of 25 to 39 year olds drank coffee daily. On the recommendation of the American Medical Association, “moderate tea or coffee drinking has no negative effect on health, as long as you live an otherwise healthy lifestyle.” This is a rather lackluster endorsement for coffee in light of a series of astounding findings. In addition to disproving claims that coffee is associated with hypertension, researchers have linked coffee as a preventative for several illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, diabetes and a number of cancers.

Contrary to popular belief, research suggests that caffeine is not the solitary chemical to thank for coffee’s health benefits. Rather, it is the result of a biochemical reaction in the fruit the coffee bean is housed in that gives it such dynamic properties.

According to a recent study, “the complex mixture of phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables provides protective health benefits.”  Through the fusion of several of these naturally occurring compounds, including caffeine, coffee’s health benefits are born.

In short, drinking coffee, not caffeine additives, is what your body will appreciate later in life; a truth that an increasing number of young Americans have learned the hard way.

According to a report released last month by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of energy drink related emergency room visits increased to over 20,000 in 2012, a 36% boost from the previous year. With more patients aged 18 to 39 than any other age group.

The total amount of caffeine in an energy drink can go up to 500 milligrams (mg), compared with the approximate 100 mg in a 5-ounce cup of coffee or 50 mg in a 12-ounce soda. As with all indulgences, caffeine is only beneficial in moderation. More than 500 to 600 mg of caffeine a day can result in muscle tremors, faster than normal heartbeats, upset stomachs, irritability, restlessness and increased blood pressure. Energy drinks contain additional supplements, and therefore, have additional affects beyond caffeine. These additives such as Taurine and Zeratsky, are often marketed as natural substances, suggesting positive health implications. In reality, little is known about the long term effects of these compounds.

As college students on a time crunch, we don’t necessarily have time to worry about what’s healthier when reaching for something to keep us going. When it comes down to it, caffeine and the beverages that possess them are something to be enjoyed in moderation.

So pick your poison, as long as you don’t drown yourself in it.

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