You can keep your caffeine

November 14, 2001|By Betsy Hornick | Betsy Hornick,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Chances are you're reading this with a cup of coffee, tea or soda within reach. Rest assured, the evidence so far on such caffeine-containing beverages suggests you can take another sip without worry.

"When it comes to unexplained health problems, it's easy to point a finger at caffeine, especially since caffeine does have effects on the body," says Dr. Herbert Muncie, a family-practice physician and professor at the University of Maryland.

But Muncie agrees with other experts who believe that caffeine's effects do not pose health risks for most people.

We've all heard someone profess an addiction to caffeine. But the term is often used loosely to describe a craving or desire - like being "addicted" to chocolate, jogging or playing computer games. Although some people report unpleasant withdrawallike symptoms when they stop caffeine abruptly, the discomfort subsides after a few days. And unlike true addictions, you do not need increasing amounts of caffeine to achieve the same stimulant effects.

Given the widespread use and availability of caffeinated food and drinks, scrutiny is likely to continue. For now, moderation is the name of the game. Though there's no official guideline for caffeine, most experts agree that 300 milligrams of caffeine per day - the amount in about three cups of coffee - is a prudent place to quit.

"Most people self-regulate their intake of caffeine," Muncie says. They know how many cups of coffee or soda it takes before they feel unwanted effects, like jitteriness, stomach upset or insomnia.

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