These days, caffeine is the most commonly consumed psychoactive drug. It is estimated that at least 50% of adults consume caffeine on a daily basis. It is also estimated that soda and sweetened drinks are the single most consumed food in the American diet. The energy drink sales market in the United States throughout 2009 brought in roughly $4 billion dollars, with Red Bull coming in as the top selling energy drink, with Monster and Rockstar coming in 2nd and 3rd place. Red Bull currently has a 65 percent share of the U.S. Energy drink market. And in 2012 it took in sales of over $1 billion dollars alone. Coca-cola earned an impressive $4.68 billion in 2012. Alarmingly, more than one-third of teens are consuming are energy drinks daily “just to get through the day.”
“The soda fountain is the most valuable, most useful, most profitable, and altogether most beneficial business building feature assimilated by the drugstore in a generation…” – John Somerset, Drug Topics June 1920
When we feel tired or drowsy, this is thanks to the binding of adenosine to adenosine-receptors on the synapses of neurons in our brain. These receptors help to facilitate a “slow-down” of our brain’s signaling functions, and induces a tired sensation, when adenosine is bound. Caffeine’s chemical structure is vastly similar to that of adenosine, and the neurons in our brain will allow for either caffeine or adenosine to bind to the adenosine-receptors, effectively blocking adenosine’s binding. When we are really active, and expend adenosine triphosphate (ATP) (often referred to as the ‘molecular unit of currency’ or ‘energy currency’), there are higher levels of adenosine concentration in our brain. (Fisone, Borgkvist,& Usiello, 2004).
Caffeine is an antagonist which inhibits the effects of adenosine and competes for binding sites. When caffeine occupies the binding sites on nerve cells, it doesn’t mimic the ‘slow-down’ that is initiated when adenosine binds to the site. Instead of slowing down, the cells speed up and fire rapidly. Consuming too much caffeine can have many negative effects on our health, common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include (but are not limited to): headaches, fatigue, drowsiness, nausea, muscle pains, and stiffness. It can also have negative effects on our sleep, even our brain development.
Humans particularly need sleep during puberty, as during this time their brain matures at a faster rate. Scientists exploring the effects of caffeine on rats found the maturing process in the rodents’ brains were inhibited and ultimately delayed due to caffeine consumption. Researchers at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich, found that in pubescent rats, caffeine intake equating to three to four cups of coffee per day in humans resulted in reduced deep sleep and delayed brain development. Compared to the rats that had been given pure drinking water, the researchers found that the ones which had consumed the water had far more neural connections in the brain than the caffeine-drinking animals.
Along with the growing controversy surrounding caffeinated drinks, last year Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought to ban large soda drinks in New York, in an effort to battle current rates of consumption. But we all know how well prohibition works, and the effort has received harsh criticism from fellow Americans. Instead of buying one really large “forbidden” size drink, what is stopping people from purchasing several? The legislation clearly isn’t going to be as effective as originally intended. If someone wants to drink 16oz of soda, they are going to find a way to drink it.
Excessive caffeine consumption obviously negatively impacts our overall health. Sugar in these soft drinks can lead to high insulin levels, which would contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and also weight gain. The acid in the soda also eats away at tooth enamel, weakening your teeth. The aspartame sugar substitute in diet soda (and even some non-diet sodas) also isn’t very beneficial for the body, consumption of which can produce brain tumors, birth defects, diabetes, emotional disorders, and epilepsy/seizures. Everything should be consumed in moderation, and where there are withdrawal effects there is also addiction and dependence in a physiological as well as psychological manner.