Excessive caffeine intake proves harmful for adolescents


Photo by Abby Blitz

Nikol Slatinska

If sophomore Bradley Snyder isn’t on his sixth Mountain Dew Kickstart by the end of the day, then he’s most likely comatose. Like 75 percent of American adolescents, Snyder consumes caffeine on a daily basis through energy drinks and coffee, which are now more common than soda, according to a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I drink a lot of caffeine,” Snyder said. “I’ll drink three to six Kickstarts on a weekday, but I usually try to hold back on weekends.”
Although there have been allegations that metabolism and weight cause caffeine to affect everyone differently, Dr. Alan Wu, a professor of toxicology at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the chief of the clinical chemistry and toxicology laboratories at San Francisco General Hospital, shut those claims down.
“There are genetic differences that are not predictable [when it comes to caffeine],” Dr. Wu said. “Weight is not usually a factor.”
What is a factor, as Dr. Wu said, is each individual’s genetic makeup, which determines how the body metabolizes caffeine, in turn determining that body’s caffeine sensitivity level. As reported by caffeineinformer.com, an enzyme called CYP1A2 processes and metabolizes caffeine in the liver. This is administered by a specific gene, and changes in DNA sequence can cause the gene to not work efficiently, which causes the body to not be able to get rid of the caffeine quickly. Another gene, known as the AHR gene, controls the CYP1A2 gene, which has caused 10 percent of the population to not be very caffeine sensitive.
Regardless if Snyder’s CYP1A2 gene works efficiently, he has noticed significant effects from his excessive caffeine consumption.
[Caffeine] makes it incredibly hard for me to go to sleep,” Snyder said. “It has caused horrible acne breakouts, and it causes me to crash when I don’t drink enough of it. I also get migraines frequently, and I think it might be related [to caffeine] but I’m not completely certain.”
A new study suggests that caffeine affects boys differently from teen girls, according to research from the University of Buffalo. The study found that caffeine creates greater heart-rate and blood-pressure changes in boys than it does in girls. Dr. Wu warns young people to avoid high caffeine consumption, much like that of Snyder’s.
“Too much caffeine is very dangerous to young people,” Dr. Wu said. “In moderation, which is about one to two regular coffees per day, caffeine is completely safe for teenagers. [However], dependency on caffeine is not a good idea, and these kids should try to reduce consumption.”
Dr. Neal Benowitz, also a professor at the UCSF School of Medicine and Dr. Wu’s colleague, agrees with Dr. Wu entirely.
“If you are a regular consumer of caffeine, such as multiple Cokes, Red Bulls or coffees per day, and you don’t have those beverages one day, you will have withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches and problems concentrating, that may impair school performance,” Dr. Benowitz said.
Other symptoms of caffeine addiction, as reported by Mayo Clinic, are nervousness, irritability and muscle tremors. These symptoms are usually prevalent in people who drink four or more cups of coffee a day. For a caffeine connoisseur like Snyder, these warning signs are a small price to pay for the chemical that allows his body to operate normally without breaking down from exhaustion.
I drink caffeine mainly because I don’t get enough sleep,” Snyder said. “I’ve got a huge work load every night from helping my family to finishing my AP homework. I’ll usually go to bed around one or two in the morning, and I’ll wake up around 6 a.m. I wouldn’t say I particularly like coffee or soda; I just rely on it to get by. I almost can’t function without it.”