Caffeine is toxic!
by Dr. Wayne Coghlan
I was touring the CBC website and came across this article. And the fact is, caffeine IS toxic, especially if you are an insect.
If you ate a tablespoon of pure caffeine, it would probably kill you. Why? Because it's a naturally occurring chemical in plants that functions as an insecticide. That's what author Murray Carpenter discovered when researching caffeine -- and our culture's love for caffeinated beverages -- for his new book, Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts and Hooks Us.
But caffeine in small doses is harmless, right? Yes, and no. "The big positive that we all know and love is that it increases our alertness, it decreased our sense of fatigue, just basically gives us a lift in mood," Carpenter said. The American military has done studies on the effects of caffeine on soldiers and discovered that caffeine assisted their alertness in critical situations, making it a potentially valuable tool. However, this boost in energy has its downfalls. "Caffeine can have some unpleasant side effects," such as causing lack of sleep and increasing anxiety.
Carpenter cautions people who are predisposed to being anxious to stay away from caffeine. This can be difficult because caffeine is more prevalent than ever: specialty coffees, heavily caffeinated soft drinks and energy drinks have all hit the market in the past 60 years. But that's not all. Recent products include caffeinated gel strips you put on your tongue, caffeinated chocolate bars and energy chews, caffeinated beef jerky (called Perky Jerky) and even a caffeinated body spray promising an energy boost.
"I've been surprised at the crazy stuff people are coming up with in order to get caffeine into it," he said.
Caffeine toxicity Primary symptoms of caffeine intoxication Caffeine overdose can result in a state of central nervous system over-stimulation called caffeine intoxication (DSM-IV 305.90). This syndrome typically occurs only after ingestion of large amounts of caffeine, well over the amounts found in typical caffeinated beverages and caffeine tablets (e.g., more than 400–500 mg at a time). The symptoms of caffeine intoxication are comparable to the symptoms of overdoses of other stimulants: they may include restlessness, fidgeting, anxiety, excitement, insomnia, flushing of the face, increased urination, gastrointestinal disturbance, muscle twitching, a rambling flow of thought and speech, irritability, irregular or rapid heart beat, and psychomotor agitation. In cases of much larger overdoses, mania, depression, lapses in judgment, disorientation, disinhibition, delusions, hallucinations, or psychosis may occur, and rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue) can be provoked.
Extreme overdose can result in death. The median lethal dose (LD50) given orally is 192 milligrams per kilogram in rats. The LD50 of caffeine in humans is dependent on individual sensitivity, but is estimated to be about 150 to 200 milligrams per kilogram of body mass or roughly 80 to 100 cups of coffee for an average adult. Though achieving lethal dose of caffeine would be difficult with regular coffee, it is easier to reach high doses with caffeine pills, and the lethal dose can be lower in individuals whose ability to metabolize caffeine is impaired. Chronic liver disease is one factor that can slow the metabolism of caffeine. There has been a reported death of a man who had liver cirrhosis overdosing on caffeinated mints. Drugs such as fluvoxamine or levofloxacin can have a similar effect by blocking the liver enzyme responsible for the metabolism of caffeine, thus increasing the central effects and blood concentrations of caffeine five-fold. The exact cause of death in such cases is uncertain, but may result from cardiac arrhythmia leading to cardiac arrest.
Treatment of severe caffeine intoxication is generally supportive, providing treatment of the immediate symptoms, but if the patient has very high serum levels of caffeine then peritoneal dialysis, hemodialysis, or hemofiltration may be required.
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