While many sleep-deprived Boston University students frequently rely on coffee and other caffeinated drinks to power through classes and late-night cramming sessions, a study published Monday suggests they may need to reconsider their choices.
The report, prepared by researchers at the Institution of Medicine, states that an increasing number of adolescents are consuming caffeinated food and beverages regularly.
“The types of people that are consuming these products tend to be ones that need to stay awake or have a lifestyle where they don’t get enough sleep and are reaching for these things to stay alert,” said Joan Salge Blake, a clinical associate professor at Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “… You can’t keep masking your energy level by dependence on caffeine …”
One of the major contemporary issues with caffeine consumption is that adolescents are not just getting caffeine fixes from coffee, but artificially sweetened energy drinks, Blake said.
“The extra calories that can be in these energy drinks are basically pure sugar,” Blake said. “With over 69 percent of Americans overweight, we don’t need to be gulping our calories from an energy drink that has no other nutrient contributions to the diet.”
Blake said consuming excess amounts of caffeine not only has short-term adverse effects, but could create lifelong health issues for consumers.
“Caffeine is a stimulant, but if you have too much it can have an adverse effect such as an increased heart rate, irregular heart rate, palpitations,” she said. “It can increase blood pressure. Sleep disturbances, which make it challenging to get sleep or insomnia. It’s a diuretic, so you can get dehydrated. There are many problems in excess amounts.”
Rachel Reynolds, a registered dietitian at the Sargent Choice Nutrition Center, said despite the potentially negative health effects of caffeine, moderate coffee consumption could be beneficial to one’s health.
“In recent years there has been research to suggest that regular coffee consumption, not other caffeinated beverages, may reduce the risk for developing Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, liver cirrhosis, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer,” Reynolds said. “It may be due to the caffeine, the loads of antioxidants, something they still have yet to discover — or likely from a combination of all three of these factors.”
Reynolds suggested college students control their caffeine intake with energy-maximizing foods.
“Students can control their caffeine intake by optimizing their energy level with a well-balanced diet,” she said. “A well-balanced diet contains a variety of sources of whole grains, lean protein, fruit, vegetables, low fat dairy and heart-healthy oils. This will help them have more energy to use throughout the day.”
Naomi Tinkelman, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman, said she would get a headache without consuming the two cups of coffee she drinks daily.
“Sometimes I get a bit shaky [from caffeine consumption], but never anything bad or nothing that affects me too much,” Tinkelman said. “If I were to stop drinking coffee, I would probably get headaches for a while.”
College of Engineering junior Adam Duda said the irritability he experienced when he stopped drinking energy drinks made him rethink his caffeine consumption.
“I’ve heard that caffeine can be addictive and if you consume too much of it, it becomes a depressant,” Duda said. “When I used to drink energy drinks in high school, I realized that I’d get really cranky, and that wasn’t good.”
Alissa McKnight, a first-year SAR graduate student, said the appeal of coffee consumption is linked to peer pressure.
“People consume caffeine, especially coffee, so much because it’s a social thing and their friends are doing it,” she said. “Also, in college everyone is sleep-deprived and thinks it’s the solution to stay up later.”