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What you should know about caffeine

Recently energy drinks, such as 5-hour Energy and Monster Energy, have come under fire in the US after the FDA received 13 and five reports of deaths possibly linked to these drinks respectively. This has raised concerns about the safety of the beverages. How could the energy drinks, whose key ingredient is caffeine, be connected to the deaths?

In a TIMEHealthland report, Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, answered some questions consumers have been asking about the beverages.

How does the body respond to caffeine?

“It’s a stimulant. It wakes you up. It makes you more alert. It is stimulating your nervous system,” says Giancoli. Giving the nervous system a jolt can lessen fatigue and sometimes improve mood. As heart rates go up, the body circulates more blood and can speed up the metabolism.

What are some of the adverse effects of caffeine?

If you’re not used to the amount of caffeine you’re consuming, you can feel jittery. “You can get heart palpitations and feel agitated and nervous and like you’re bouncing off the walls,” says Giancoli. “You can feel your heart pounding very quickly, and your blood pressure goes up. Imagine if your body were undergoing this, times 10. It would land you in the emergency room. Your heart can only handle so much, and you are probably going to pass out.”

How much caffeine is too much?

“Typically we would say 300 to 500mg is safe for most people — not that people need that much or want that much — it’s about three to five cups of coffee,” says Giancoli. “There are people who can drink much more than that. Some people can drink a whole pot of coffee a day and have no problem. Then you hear about people who cannot retain caffeine at all and have one cup, and they’re flying off the walls.”

Giancoli says people can become accustomed to high amounts of caffeine over time, so the effect in enhancing alertness and improving energy may dwindle in heavy and frequent consumers compared with those who rarely drink caffeinated beverages.

Why are the amounts of caffeine in energy drinks unlabelled?

The FDA currently does not require caffeine amounts to be listed on food labels. Caffeine is not considered a nutrient and therefore only needs to be listed as an ingredient. The FDA does not regulate energy drinks because they are sold as dietary supplements. If the FDA did regulate them, most would have levels of caffeine higher than what the agency deems safe. The agency currently allows sodas to contain 71mg of caffeine per 355ml.

According to the FDA, energy drinks contain from 160 to 500mg of caffeine per serving. A recent Consumer Reports test of 27 best-selling energy drinks found that 11 do not list caffeine content, and among those that do, the tested amount was on average 20% higher than what’s listed.

Is it possible to die from caffeine?

Overdoing caffeine alone is actually pretty difficult to do, says Jacobson. “It’s highly unlikely. Someone would really have to make an effort to consume 40 or so 200-mg caffeine tablets.”…..

TIMEHealthland: Read the full article

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