warns leading expert
- Dr Jack James claims that the stimulant is causing ‘untimely deaths’
- Says its ‘lethality‘ is being underestimated as it’s widely considered harmless
- But caffeine is now in many everyday foods, drinks, medicines and toiletries, meaning we are unwittingly consuming or exposed to more than we think
Caffeine is so dangerous and is being consumed in such high quantities that it should now be regulated, a leading expert claims. Dr Jack James says that the stimulant is causing ‘untimely deaths’ and that its ‘lethality’ is being underestimated. Dr James, editor in chief of the Journal of Caffeine Research, and head of the department of psychology at Reykjavik University, Iceland, says he is concerned that the substance is increasingly being added to products such as energy drinks, alcoholic drinks and medicines. Dr James believes the risks caffeine poses to our health are so great that products that contain it should be taxed and restricted like cigarettes and alcohol. Sales to children in particular should be restricted.
He says that as well as tea (including green tea) and coffee, caffeine is found in fizzy drinks, energy drinks, bottled water, alcoholic drinks (such as Tia Maria), cookies, chewing gum, yogurt and flavoured milk. It is also commonly found in cold and flu remedies, weight loss pills, mints, cosmetics, soaps and even tights to aid slimming. Even more worrying, he says that caffeine is also frequently used as a diluent (cutting agent) in illicit drugs. He notes that while some countries in Europe and Scandinavia have begun to take regulatory action, including sales restrictions and product labelling, most countries including the UK and the U.S. have a ‘regulatory vacuum’.
And in 2009, a father from Bolton said his 11-year-old son hanged himself after energy drinks changed his behaviour. Lee Johns said his son Tyler was a happy-go-lucky child until he started downing the drinks to make himself feel grown up.
Tyler went from thriving at school and impressing neighbours with his good behaviour to becoming ‘hyper and disruptive‘ in the months leading to his death last year. A one-litre caffeine drink was lying near Tyler’s body when his mother found him hanging in his bedroom.
Dr James is also concerned that sporty teenagers who drink lots of caffeine are putting their hearts under a great deal of strain. He adds that although caffeine has been widely considered to be harmless, ‘awareness is increasing that its consumption is associated with substantial harm, including fatalities and near-fatalities’. He says that caffeine – in the form of energy drinks – also offsets the sedating effects of alcohol and encourages people to drink more. Furthermore, there is a ‘growing body of evidence’ which indicates that compared to alcohol alone, adding caffeine increases the risk of having unprotected sex, experiencing or committing sexual assault, drink driving and being violent. There is also evidence that caffeine consumption by children may also make them more likely to use alcohol, drugs and smoke in the future.
Caffeine intoxication is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a medical condition. Symptoms include nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, stomach upset, tremors and rapid heartbeat. Two known triggers of the heart rhythm disorder supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) are caffeine and alcohol, so the risk increases if they are taken at the same time. SVTs can make your heart beat very quickly – up to 160 beats per minute. The result can be terrifying palpitations, chest pain, dizziness and feeling out of breath.