There was a time when getting your daily dose of caffeine meant a simple cup of coffee or tea.
Poured into a ceramic mug, the steaming liquid tended to be enough to give most people that extra burst of energy to get out the door. Back then, you'd have to drink a heck of a lot - 81 cups of brewed coffee, or 317 cups of black tea, for the average 195-pound U.S. male - to reach a lethal dose. So while you might still get the occasional shakiness, nausea and fast heartbeat associated with ingesting too much caffeine, you were highly unlikely to die from it.
But somewhere along the way, caffeine became an obsession, a need for many Americans; and an entire industry sprang up to try to make caffeine ingesting more efficient.
Today, caffeine comes in all shapes and formulations - Red Bull and Monster energy drinks, "Stay Awake" pills, Jolt gum. The most potent form, the pure powdered kind that's meant for people to mix into their food, is sold in bulk in bags or canisters that can cost as little as $10 per pound. A single teaspoon can be packed with as much caffeine as 28 cups of regular coffee.
The new products have led to an alarming public health development in recent years that was unheard of in the many previous decades that people enjoyed caffeine: a rash of thousands of overdoses and reports of addiction and withdrawal.
While rare, there are even deaths: A 14-year-old with a heart condition died after going into cardiac arrest shortly after she drank two caffeinated energy drinks in 24-hours. A 19-year-old Connecticut resident who took a dozen caffeine pills. And a healthy Ohio teen who was a high school wrestler died after consuming powdered caffeine.
The Food and Drug Administration has been so alarmed that it's mounted an aggressive effort to warn consumers about the risks of caffeine products and to take manufacturers to task for the way they are marketed.
In 2012, the regulatory agency began investigating the deaths of 13 people preliminarily linked to the dietary supplement 5-hour Energy, which contains caffeine among other ingredients. In 2013, FDA talks with the Wrigley prompted the company to stop making its caffeinated gum. In its latest action on Tuesday, the agency warned five distributors of pure powdered caffeine that they are selling products that are "dangerous" and "present a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury to consumers."
"The difference between a safe amount and a toxic dose of caffeine in these pure powdered products is very small," the FDA said. "Furthermore, safe quantities of these products can be nearly impossible to measure accurately with common kitchen measuring tools."
A bitter white alkaloid, caffeine is found naturally in the beans, leaves and fruit of more than 60 plants, and it is by far the most widely consumed psychoactive agent consumed worldwide. In the United States, 85 percent of people are estimated to consume caffeine at least once a day. This number includes children under age 18 who mostly get their caffeine in sodas. Even preschoolers are ingesting it, studies show, and the likely culprit is chocolate milk.
When it's taken in moderation - usually defined conservatively as the amount in one to two cups of coffee a day - most researchers have concluded that caffeine presents little to no risk to people's health. In fact, some studies have found that the stimulant may have some protective effects from diseases like Parkinson's and cancer.
The healthy eating trends of 2015
The healthy eating trends of 2015
1/10 Acai bowls are the new green juice
Who ever thought we’d have been ok with adding spinach to our smoothies? Yet even virtuous green juices started to get something of a bad rep, as the ‘juice fast’ backlash grew and it turned out that some shop-bought juices contained as much sugar as a can of fizzy drink. Bring on Acai bowls, the new darlings of Instagram. Like a gloopier smoothie, these are made with antioxidant-rich acai berries (they are hard to come by - search for powdered or dried berries or frozen puree), which are said to aid weight loss. Blend with frozen bananas, berries and a little nut milk and top with whatever you like - seeds, nuts, cacao nibs, goji berries. A picture-perfect purple powerhouse for breakfast.
Ella Grace Denton, www.weneedtolivemore.com
2/10 Bone broth is the new Miso soup
Remember back in the day when the word ‘broth’ would conjure up visions of Dickensian orphanages? Then miso came along, Gwyneth embraced it, and we all followed suit, lauding how filling and protein rich with little wonder broth was. We’ve come full circle now, as bone broth is back on the radar. The glowing-with-health Hemsley sisters seem to use bone broth in most of their recipes, and rave about its nutritional benefits. “Bone broth is a nourishing all rounder packed with vitamins, minerals, collagen and keratin which makes it amazing for skin – including the dreaded cellulite! The healthy fats in the broth help you to assimilate important vitamins including Vit D.” There you go, something to stew over...
Food Loves Writing, Flickr
3/10 Bee pollen is the new Manuka honey
Every health hipster has a jar of manuka honey on their shelves - if they can afford it that is, a jar can cost about £15. But many claim it is worth its weight in gold, due to its unique antibacterial properties. Traditionally it was used on wounds, but many also claim that it performs miracles combatting cholesterol, diabetes, cancer and digestive problems (although the science is limited). Now bee pollen is the latest ‘superfood’ out there - thought to ward off colds, limit food cravings, improve skin tone, ward off allergies like hay fever (although some caution that it may exacerbate them) and, of course, fight cancer. Again, the science behind these claims is dubious - but it certainly adds a nice sweetness to your morning porridge.
4/10 Kelp is the new kale
Last year saw the emergence of an unassuming green leaf that was previously barely used beyond cattle feed. Now, we have kale chips in Pret, kale juices, ‘massaged’ kale salads - it’s even on the menu in fine dining restaurants. Yawn. Introducing kelp. This seaweed is high in iodine, which is said to improve thyroid function and control metabolism. It is also thought to have anti-aging properties for skin and hair. Try it in salads or add to asian-style soups.
5/10 Matcha is the new green tea
Yes, yes, yes, green tea, weightloss, yadda yadda yadda, boosts metabolism, etc etc. For 2015, though, it’s not about just any old green tea - this is matcha green tea. Made from finely milled high-grade matcha leaves, which are grown in the shade, matcha boasts 130 times more anti-oxidants than your bog standard green tea and is supposed to boost energy levels, lower stress, improve your mood and aid metabolism. It can be consumed as a regular tea, added to steamed milk for a matcha latte or even used to add a pleasant green shade and flavour to ice-cream.
6/10 Whole 30 is the new Paleo diet
Thought you were a culinary champ with your caveman-style eating plan? Well, think again, paleo is for wimps! Ok, not quite, but while people on the paleo plan cut out grains, legumes, sugar and processed foods, there is an increasing trend to paleo-fy your treats, with almond-flour pancakes, banana bread and a lot of brownies. The Whole 30 plan is a purer, stricter version of Paleo and really takes you back to basics when it comes to eating natural foods. The 30-day plan bans scales as well as sugar and alcohol, so that you can concentrate on nourishment rather than weight.
7/10 Fermenting is the new sprouting
Just when we thought we were ahead of the game by starting to sprout our own seeds and with sprouted flours creeping on to the market, the health set had to kick it up a notch. Now it’s all about making your own kombucha (fermented tea), sauerkraut or kimchi (both kinds of pickled cabbage). Fermented foods are said to aid digestion thanks to the creation of enzymes and probiotics in the process. Plus they tend to be high in B-vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids. Think of it as the new jam-making, and break out those mason jars.
8/10 Banana flour is the new coconut flour
Coconut flour was one of the coolest baking ingredients of the year, beloved by Paleo fans. Its highly absorbent qualities mean you only need a tiny bit for baking, keeping your creations low carb but resulting in the odd dry-crumbly-mess baking fail. Banana flour is the next flour to experiment with. Made from green bananas (and no, not banana-flavoured), it is gluten free and light in texture, so ideal for baking. High in resistant starch, which is effective against colon cancer, obesity, and diabetes, it is already being lauded for its nutritional benefits in Africa and South America, and will surely start to become much more visible on health-food shop shelves in the near future.
9/10 Bulletproof coffee is the new soy latte
Nowadays it is possible to walk into almost any cafe and order a soy latte without being eyeballed as a lunatic by the person behind the counter. But would you have the guts to request a stick of butter in your morning brew? Well, some coffee shops are offering exactly that. Bulletproof coffee is a paleo-friendly invention which involves a black coffee with a dollop of coconut oil or butter. Bleurgh. But advocates say it gives you more slow-release energy, sharpens your brain and helps you to focus - and even that it is delicious. Now the theory has been expanded into a whole ‘Bulletproof’ diet plan, rich in fat. Who wants to bet on when Starbucks will give it a shot?
10/10 Tiger nuts are the new almonds
2014 was a good year for almonds. Gym-goers and raw foodists alike carried around a stash for healthy, protein-rich snacking, almond-milk lattes were quaffed, and almond flour featured in so many paleo and gluten-free treats. Now tiger nuts, or ‘earth almonds’ (yes, really), are about to vie for snacking superiority. Tiger nuts are not nuts, but the tubers of the sedge plant. Originally a key food source for Paleolithic Indians, they have until recently been used as animal feed or a side dish in South America, Africa and the Middle East, or in Hispanic companies made into a sweet, milky drink called horchata. But now the hipsters have got their hands on it, drying, roasting and flavouring with the likes of sweet chilli for an on-the-go snack. High in healthy fats, protein and natural sugar, it is rich in energy content, and thought to help prevent heart disease and improve circulation.
But when used in excess caffeine can be deadly.
In recent years, hospitals have reported an uptick in cases of caffeine overdose in emergency rooms and this year from Jan. 1 to July 31, poison centers across the country logged 1,675 reports involving energy drinks. Nearly two-thirds were in children 18 and younger.
The issue is so much on everyone's mind that in 2013, when the new bible of American psychiatry - the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5 for short - was released, "caffeine withdrawal" was added as a bona fide mental health disorder - a move that practically guarantees billing codes for insurance company reimbursement.
One doctor in Baltimore, Roland Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, runs a caffeine withdrawal treatment clinic, using techniques similar to those for drugs, to wean them off the stimulant.
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