Caffeine: Good or Bad Drug? 

December 28, 2016

Driver arrested for DUI only had caffeine in his system, which raises the point, is caffeine a good or bad stimulant?

The message throughout the holidays is loud and clear  - that “drinking and driving” is not only illegal, but we all know, a very dangerous and irresponsible choice. However, in California, a man is currently facing charges for DUI despite testing for zero alcohol in his blood. In fact, the only drug found in his system was caffeine. Reports say the may was pulled over for swerving, and under California law, you can be arrested for being under the influence of any drug that impairs your driving. 

While this may be a top trending story today that will be gone tomorrow, it does raise the point that caffeine is considered a drug, defined so because it stimulates the central nervous system enhancing self-rated moods like efficiency, vigor, energy and clear-headedness. When consumed in moderation, studies have shown many positive benefits that have been researched over the years. 

This year a new study of 2,914 middle-aged and older adults suggested that consumption of three cups of coffee a day can improve cognitive functions and lower risk of a certain type of stroke. 

And in some more recent reports, studies suggest that a moderate amount of caffeine may be largely beneficial to those suffering mental disorders such as clinical depression.

In addition, the last few years have produced studies that show caffeine lowers risk of Parkinson’s disease, can reduce the risk of gallstones, reduce inflammation, relieve headaches, aid in weight management, and more.

But like many foods and beverages, moderation is the key, and we all must keep in mind that caffeine sensitivity fluctuates greatly from person to person and can vary according to an individual's frequency of consumption, metabolism, genetics, and other factors. Certain sensitive sub-populations, including pregnant women, children and older individuals, and those with a history of heart disease, may experience the effects of caffeine at lower levels, and should limit their consumption to no more than 300 mg/day.

Some studies have shown that caffeine can interfere with sleep, cause increase blood sugar levels particularly causing problems for those with diabetes, and long term use could cause a decrease in bone mineral density. 

For those who love coffee or tea or energy boosting caffeinated foods and beverages, these products abound in supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants, coffee shops and more. Coffee drinking in particular has evolved maybe more than any other beverage has from its production, to its creative use in beverages and foods, to how we connect socially around coffee and tea. 

However, if you are looking to cut back or avoid caffeine, here are some places caffeine may be hiding in your foods. 

  • Decaf coffee- some contain over 20mg of caffeine; non-cola sodas- when tested, products like root beer, orange soda and even cream soda contained about as much caffeine as a Coke. 
  • Mints- some mints are purposefully caffeinated, so read the label before accepting a breath freshener from a friend.
  • Chocolate- naturally found in cocoa beans, the darker the chocolate the more caffeine contained. Stick with a small square if you need a chocolate fix in the evening. 
  • Ice cream- yes we’re taking about the obvious coffee or chocolate ice cream but these treats can contain about as much caffeine as a can of soda.
  • Read labels carefully as manufacturers are adding caffeine to products like, oatmeal, beef jerky, vitamin infused waters, protein bars and more.