Caffeine: does it need a serious health warning?

Kim Hookem-Smith
Yahoo Lifestyle
1 March 2013

Caffeine is so dangerous it could be deadly and should carry a health warning, according to a new expert claims.

Despite millions of us depending on the drug in some form or other to get us through the day, the editor in chief of the Journal of Caffeine Research Dr Jack James reckons it needs health warning similar to those found on cigarette packets.

Dr James, who is head of the department of psychology at Reykjavik University, Iceland, has claimed that we're all consuming way more caffeine than we think we are.

According to him, manufacturers include it in all kinds of products you wouldn't expect from chewing gum to painkillers.

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But it's confusing as research and recommendations about caffeine seem very conflicted and ever changing. While some experts suggest we eschew is stuff is entirely, other studies have found that in small amounts, say two cups of coffee a day, it can be beneficial.

Some countries in Europe and Scandinavia are already taking action to regulate how much caffeine is used and in what products, but in the UK we still presume it to be more or less harmless.

Dr James is primarily concerned with the increasing number of children being exposed to too much caffeine in the form of energy drinks, sweets and even benign-seeming food such as yoghurt. He's even linked four deaths in Sweden to the substance.

Should we give up caffeine altogether?

But what about the grown ups? Should we be ditching our coffee habits ASAP and do we need to be checking all the foods, drinks, medicines and even cosmetics we use to make sure we're not over-doing it?

It's suggested adults only consume 400mg of caffeine a day (two cups of instant coffee or four of tea). To put this into perspective, one large Starbucks coffee contains 360mg. So savour your morning cup as you shouldn't be drinking any more that day.

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Though some studies have linked moderate caffeine consumption to better kidney function and a reduction in gallstones, and even heart benefits, experts remain cautious.

Migraine expert Dr Nicholas Silver, consultant neurologist at The Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery, told Yahoo! Lifestyle that he believed we could get rid of 80 per cent of chronic illnesses, sleep problems, migraines and headaches if we simply stopped consuming caffeine.

Women should also bear in mind that caffeine stops your body being able to absorb iron, which could end up leaving you deficient (anaemic) and making you feel more tired - and reaching for another cuppa.

But ultimately there is no right or wrong answer. Individuals respond differently to all drugs and caffeine is no differently. Signs of overdoing it include a racing heartbeat and palpitations, anxiety, an upset stomach, dizziness and insomnia.

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If you are suffering from these, are feeling antsy, having troubles sleeping or regularly get headaches or migraines, you may want to try giving up caffeine to see if it helps.

However if you're a moderate coffee drinker and see no ill effects, there's no need to immediately ditch your favourite beverage.

If you're at all concerned, consider swapping one of your daily coffees for a green or other herbal tea and see if you feel better for it. It still contains caffeine but at lower levels and with the added boost of healthy antioxidants.

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