With a Starbucks in Collegetown and the locally beloved Collegetown Bagels down the street, it isn’t surprising that every day thousands of Cornellians give in to temptation and order a delicious, steaming cup of Joe. Many of them have been told that the caffeine in coffee is unhealthy, and that it may lead to high blood pressure. But how much truth is there to those accusations directed at this seemingly innocent drink? What really is the science behind caffeine?
Caffeine is known medically as trimexthylxanthine. It is often used as a cardiac stimulant and also as a mild diuretic, meaning it increases urine production. Most college students consume caffeine in order to increase their level of alertness and stay awake longer, whether to work on an assignment or to pull the infamous “all-nighter.”
Many experts argue that caffeine is an addictive drug. Others however, believe caffeine’s dangers are exaggerated. “Caffeine is not an addicting drug. It is habit forming. Addicting drugs act on specific targets in the brain. Caffeine is more diffusely active,” Prof. David A. Levitsky, nutritional science, said.
Experts have expressed concerns about the short and long-term effects that caffeine “addictions” entail. The short-term effects are usually the desired outcomes: energy and alertness. The long-term effects pose more of an obvious threat. Some of these include chronic insomnia, persistent anxiety, depression and stomach ulcers. Caffeine can also cause irregular heartbeat and may raise cholesterol levels.
Levitsky says it is too early to draw specific conclusions: “It’s not uncommon to find correlations between coffee consumption and various pathologies. However, correlation does not mean causation … we have to wait for more powerful evidence,” he said.
Some researchers say many people do not know how much caffeine they are consuming because manufacturers are only required by the FDA to list caffeine as an ingredient on a beverage label, and are allowed to omit the amount of caffeine that is in the product. But Levitsky isn’t too worried. “There is a maximum amount food manufactures can put into a product [and] caffeine is a relatively safe drug,” he said.
While caffeine-induced all nighters may not be the best way to study for that prelim, they won’t become obsolete anytime soon. Until the day comes when college students worldwide learn to manage their study time flawlessly, espressos are truly saviors and it’s nice to know that they’re not as dangerous as some might suggest.