Caffeine Controversy

October 17, 1980

Report Outline
Caffeine and Birth Defects
Popularity of Coffee and Cola
Other Health Implications
Special Focus

Caffeine and Birth Defects

World's Most Widely Used Stimulant

You are running late in the morning and have time for only a cup of coffee. You drink a second cup at the mid-morning work break, and wash down lunch with a 12-ounce cola drink. For a late afternoon pick-me-up you have another cup of coffee, along with a chocolate candy bar. Before leaving for home you take two tablets of an over-the-counter headache remedy that's supposed to be more powerful than aspirin. In the evening you drink a pepper beverage at dinner. After the meal, you linger over two cups of strong tea. You drink a cup of hot chocolate before retiring for the night. In this day you have consumed about 600 milligrams of caffeine, more than the average American adult does, but much less than the truly heavy coffee drinker.

Caffeine is a chemical compound found naturally in coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans and kola nuts. Caffeine is added to over-the-counter and prescription drugs used as pain-relievers and stimulants. It also is added to cola drinks and to other soft drinks not usually thought of as caffeine-containing beverages, such as Mountain Dew, Mello Yello and Sunkist Orange. Caffeine is a bitter-tasting, odorless drug, an alkaline in the xanthine chemical family.

Experts say caffeine is the world's most widely consumed stimulant, primarily due to the enormous popularity of coffee, tea and cola drinks. Caffeine and the other two alkaloids (theophylline and theobromine) found in these substances stimulate the central nervous system, entering all of the body's organs and tissues minutes after ingestion. Caffeine causes the heart and lungs to quicken their normal pace, the kidneys to produce more fluid and the stomach to excrete more acid. This substance also acts to clear the mind, and has a well-known property of combatting fatigue.

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