Pick your poison

Kelly Byer

From frappuccinos, to fruit juices, to exercise – students find numerous ways to get energy

Coffee, Coca-Cola, tea and some chocolate are sources of caffeine that can give your body a boost of energy, but this also has some negative effects. CAITLIN PRARAT | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

About 90 percent of adults use a certain drug every day, according to a study in the “Journal of the American Dietetic Association.”

It is included in prescription and over-the-counter medicine, cosmetic skin care products, certain soaps and common beverages. Starbucks, The Coca-Cola Company and Hershey’s distribute it, and students consume it.

Their drug of choice: caffeine.

“I don’t think people really appreciate that,” said Diane Stroup, director of biotechnology and associate professor in the chemistry department, “that it’s really a drug, a quite powerful drug.”


Body System: Cardiovascular- Heart

Caffeine Effects: Increases blood pressure and heart rate. Studies show coffee can reduce the risk of heart disease but only if a person has low blood pressure. Pressure above a certain level damages arteries, which will cause heart disease. It constricts cerebral blood vessels and can help rid headaches.

Body System: Weight/Metabolism

Caffeine Effects: Burns fat during exercise. “There’s more free fatty acids in the blood plasma,” which could damage the heart, and it needs to be burnt. Energy metabolism is shifted toward burning instead of storing. It causes the same action as adrenaline, which is why athletes can perform better after consuming caffeine.

Body System: Sleep Cycle

Caffeine Effects: Interferes with the body’s natural way to regulate wake/sleep cycle; can cause insomnia.

Body System: Skeletal

Caffeine Effects: Can cause decreased bone density or osteoporosis in women.

Body System: Nervous – Mind/Mood

Caffeine Effects: Stimulates mental activity. Reaction time is diminished and motor activity is increased. It improves memory, concentration and helps with learning. It can boost a person’s mood and decrease fatigue. It can also cause anxiety.

Body System: Gastrointestinal – Stomach

Caffeine Effects: Causes stomach to increase its production of acid and irritates the stomach lining. It relaxes intestinal muscles, making digestion less effective.

Body System: Respiratory, Smooth Muscles

Caffeine Effects: Relaxes bronchi to increase lung volume. It is used to treat bronchial asthma.

Body System: Urinary – Kidneys

Caffeine Effects: Increases urine production. It can treat conditions such as high blood pressure, glaucoma and edema – swelling caused by fluid accumulation in body tissue.

Sources: Professor Stroup, “Caffeine and Chromosomes,” MayoClinic.com, “The American Medical Journal,”

WebMD, Pegasus NLP

Caffeine, which acts as a stimulant, is a natural pesticide present in more than 60 kinds of plants, Stroup said.

Bengt A. Kihlman describes how caffeine occurs widely throughout the plant kingdom in his book Caffeine and Chromosomes.

“The parts of the plants which contain caffeine are usually leaves, fruits, seeds or bark,” Kihlman said.

The most familiar forms of caffeine are coffee beans, cocoa beans, tea leaves and cola nuts -which were originally used in soft drinks but have more recently been replaced by synthetic chemicals, according to the Food Reference Web site.

Freshman exploratory major Sam Frances said she drinks soft drinks every day since she doesn’t like coffee, and energy drinks are expensive.

“I like pop in general,” Frances said, “I can’t seem to not drink it.”

But Frances said she could livewithout it, although she would rather be comfortable with it. She said sometimes it’s the only way she can get a pick-me-up.

“I drink it more than I drink anything else,” she said.

Freshman exploratory major Danielle Haering said her caffeinated drink of choice is coffee, which she occasionally has during breaks, in the mornings, while studying and throughout the cold months of winter.

Haering said she prefers coffee not because of its ability to energize, but because it’s something warm to drink in winter. When drinking coffee with espresso, though, she does tend to feel more energized, she said.

“It helps a little, but not really,” Haering said.

Small doses of caffeine can “increase alertness and improve concentration,” while larger doses can cause anxiety and discomfort, according to WebMD.

Stroup said it’s believed a person can concentrate better in a stimulated state but said caffeine also causes anxiety, raises blood pressure and can cause insomnia.

“It interferes with the body’s natural way that it regulates its wake/sleep cycle,” Stroup said.

In the body, it creates an effect similar to a stress response and can continue to affect a person six to eight hours later, according to the Pegasus NLP Mind-Body Health Web site.

The ways this stimulant can affect a person are numerous

“There is hardly any other drug that affects the genetic material in so many different ways as caffeine,” Kihlman said.

For those wanting caffeine’s boost of energy without the side effects, healthier alternatives are available.

Stroup said she believes green tea is a safer choice than coffee.

“Green tea is actually very good,” Stroup said, “and it’s believed to be heart-healthy.”

Healthy carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables and grains provide nutrients and also improve a persons mood for longer periods of time than sweet foods, according to WebMD.

But for the best effect, high-carb foods should be eaten by themselves because fat and protein interfere with digestion and the mood-enhancing hormone they release.

Fruit juices, which produce a fast insulin response, improve moods quicker, but the high-carb foods like cereal, pasta and whole-grain toast, which take longer to release insulin, have more lasting effects, according to WebMD.

There are many other foods with the ability to affect a person’s mood, but to replace stimulants with non-edible solutions, Stroup suggests exercising, sleeping and socializing.

Stroup said people who exercise will be more energetic, youthful and will live longer.

“Exercise 30 minutes a day, even if you just walk,” Stroup said. “It changes your entire metabolism.”

It’s also important to get regular, uninterrupted sleep.

“The goal is so that you can wake up on time without an alarm clock,” Stroup said.

And, believe it or not, Stroup said having good friends can also be beneficial.

“Other people are very stimulating,” Stroup said. “It makes us use parts of our brain that we wouldn’t use if we weren’t talking to anyone.”

But if students choose to consume caffeinated beverages, it’s not all bad if in moderation, Stroup said.

Contact features correspondent Kelly Byer at [email protected].