Magazine article Newsweek

Can Caffeine Kill?

Magazine article Newsweek

Can Caffeine Kill?

Article excerpt

Byline: Kent Sepkowitz

What energy drinks do to you.

By legend it all started in Ethiopia more than 1,000 years ago when a goatherd named Kaldi noticed something: after his flock nibbled berries from a certain bush they seemed to hop and sprint tirelessly. Intrigued, he sampled a bit himself, catching mankind's first buzz off the coffee bean--something he savored till instructed by a local religious man to steer clear of anything that made him feel so happy.

Since then, billions of caffeine addicts have followed the lead of Kaldi and his goats, starting each morning with the jolt necessary to maneuver through the day ahead. Caffeine is far and away the most frequently used psychoactive drug in the world, but here's the odd part: it's not regulated in the U.S.

At least until now. With the FDA decision to investigate five deaths possibly related to the caffeine found in energy drinks, the free ride soon may be over. Currently, energy-drink producers are not obliged to say how much caffeine is in their product; they can roll it up into a vague "and other ingredients" placeholder. Many think the time has come to impel makers to tell us what's in their secret sauce.

But rather than falling into another debate over the role of regulation, let's ask the central question: can caffeine really kill you? Indeed it can; that agitation you feel after too many cups, taken to the extreme, also can agitate the heart into a fatal arrhythmia. In fact, people have worried about the safety of caffeine for a century. …

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