TIME Diet/Nutrition

Energy Drinks Are Hurting Young Kids

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Cans of energy drinks are displayed in a store in San Diego on November 10, 2006. AFP/Getty Images

Poison centers are fielding calls about adverse health events from energy drinks for kids as young as six

Over 40% of calls to U.S. poison centers concerning energy drinks are for kids under age 6, some of whom reported experiencing symptoms like serious cardiac and neurological problems.

In a new study that examined the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System, looking at reports from Oct. 2010 to Sept. 2013, researchers found that of the 5,156 reported cases of energy drink exposure, 40% where unintentional exposures by kids. Symptoms related to the heart, like abnormal rhythms, were noted in 57% of the reported cases. Neurological issues were reported in 55% of the cases.

American Heart Association

Prior data has shown that young kids are passing up caffeinated beverages like soda, but are instead consuming more energy drinks and coffee. The FDA is currently investigating the risks of added caffeine in products consumed by young people.

The trouble with energy drinks is that they are not always regulated the same way as other beverages. For instance, some are considered dietary supplements, and don’t need FDA safety approval. The FDA considers caffeine to be safe, but some energy drinks can contain up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per can, as compared to 100-150 mg in a coffee, the study’s authors say.

Researchers are unsure what part of energy drinks can cause adverse health problems. It’s possible other ingredients besides caffeine can result in medical issues.

The American Beverage Association responded to the study, which is not yet published but was presented recently at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions:

“This abstract has not been published and therefore the authors’ full methodology and analysis is not available for review. In the past, various experts have raised concerns regarding misinterpretation and inherent limitations of data from National Poison Data System when it comes to Energy Drinks. Based on the most recent government data reported in the journal Pediatrics, children under 12 have virtually no caffeine consumption from energy drinks.

Even so, leading energy drink makers voluntarily place advisory statements on energy drink packaging stating that energy drinks are not recommended for children. They also have voluntarily pledged not to market these products to children or sell them in K-12 schools. These guidelines and more are noted in the ABA Guidance on the Responsible Labeling and Marketing of Energy Drinks.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Kind of Tea Lowers Blood Pressure Naturally

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The best brew for your heart

Recent research has come down squarely on the side of caffeinated morning beverages, suggesting that coffee can protect against cancer and type 2 diabetes. Tea has enjoyed a healthy reputation for years as a heart-protector, and a study published in the October issue of British Journal of Nutrition suggests it might even help lower blood pressure.

Researchers were intrigued by the inconclusive link in studies so far regarding blood pressure and tea intake, so they analyzed 25 randomized controlled trials—the gold standard of scientific research—to further explore on the association.

They found that in the short term, tea didn’t seem to make a difference for blood pressure. But long-term tea intake did have a significant impact. After 12 weeks of drinking tea, blood pressure was lower by 2.6 mmHg systolic and 2.2 mmHg diastolic. Green tea had the most significant results, while black tea performed the next best.

Those might not seem like big numbers, but small changes in blood pressure can have a significant impact on health, the study authors write. Reducing systolic blood pressure by 2.6 mmHg “would be expected to reduce stroke risk by 8%, coronary artery disease mortality by 5% and all-cause mortality by 4% at a population level,” they write.

Tea is thought to offer endothelial protection by helping blood vessels relax, allowing blood to flow more freely. It’s a high source of antioxidants that have been linked to better cardiovascular health.

The researchers weren’t able to pinpoint the optimal number of cups to drink to get the benefit, but other studies have shown protective effects at 3-4 daily cups. The researchers said they didn’t see a difference in caffeinated tea vs. decaf.

“These are profound effects and must be considered seriously in terms of the potential for dietary modification to modulate the risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease],” the authors write.

Read next: 6 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally

MONEY

You Could Get $10 from Red Bull

Red Bull is distributing cash to customers under the terms of a lawsuit settlement. But there's only $13 million to go around.

TIME Addiction

Addicted to Coffee? It’s Probably in Your Genes

coffee crema
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A new genetic explanation for your caffeine cravings

If you feel like you literally could not survive a day without coffee, you might have your genes to thank (or blame).

A new genome-wide study published in Molecular Psychiatry has identified genetic variants that may have a lot to do with your coffee obsession. Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital looked at more than 120,000 coffee drinkers and found six markers linked to responsiveness to caffeine—some of which had been previously identified as being related to smoking initiation and other types of potentially addictive behaviors, but had never before been linked to coffee consumption, says Marilyn Cornelis, research associate in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study.

MORE: You Asked: Is Coffee Bad For You?

Caffeine is a drug—a fact many of us forget until we madly crave a double shot. “There is controversy as to whether it can be addictive, and some of the genes that come up in the study suggest that’s quite possible,” Cornelis says. “The stimulating effects caffeine has would suggest that caffeine is a major driving in habitual coffee consumption at the genetic level.”

MORE: How Coffee Might Lower the Risk of Heart Failure

The results might help add nuance to coffee research, she says, which generally treats everyone as the same. It could also help pinpoint people who’d most benefit from coffee consumption, and who should stick to decaf. “We assume that any health effects from one cup of coffee will be the same for everyone, but this data suggests that’s not true,” Cornelis says.

Scientists have known for a long time that genetics play a role in coffee consumption and caffeine response, Cornelis says. “But it’s only until just recently that we’ve actually been able to pinpoint these exact genetics. That’s an important step forward in the research.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

You Asked: Is Coffee Bad For You?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

For years, your morning joe got a bad rap from health experts. But newer research suggests coffee may actually be good for you—if you follow the rules

“I gave up coffee” is a refrain of the health conscious. But should it be? The idea that coffee is a dangerous, addictive stimulant springs mostly from 1970s- and 1980s-era studies that tied the drink to higher rates of cancer and heart disease, explains Dr. Rob van Dam, a disease and nutrition expert at Harvard School of Public Health who has examined coffee and its health effects. According to van Dam, that old research didn’t do a great job of adjusting for a person’s cigarette habit or other unhealthy behaviors.

But newer, better-designed research paints a more benign picture of your favorite eye-opener. Van Dam and his colleagues analyzed health and diet data on roughly 130,000 adults spanning 24 years. They found no evidence that drinking coffee increases your risk of death from cancer, cardiovascular disease, or other causes. That was true even for people who knocked back 48-ounces of coffee a day. In fact, there was some indication that regular coffee drinkers might enjoy a slight drop in mortality risk, van Dam says.

The idea that your java could actually deserve a health halo would have shocked doctors a few decades ago. But van Dam’s study is only one in a wave of new research sure to please coffee fans. Coffee has been linked to lower rates of type-2 diabetes, a reduced risk for some cancers, and protection against Parkinson’s disease. Other research links coffee to improved memory, mood and energy levels.

The drink could even help shield you from a deadly form of skin cancer. How? The caffeine in coffee may interact with a type of “repair gene” that plays a role in the development of basal cell carcinoma, says Dr. Jiali Han, a disease researcher at Indiana University, Indianapolis, who coauthored the coffee-and-skin cancer study. Han says it’s also possible that coffee’s antioxidant compounds could account for the drink’s anti-cancer benefits—an explanation you’ll come across a lot when reading about coffee’s benefits.

But before you start swigging your java by the gallon, van Dam warns that there remain reasons to be careful. There’s evidence that pregnant women might want to limit morning caffeine fix because of an admittedly small correlation between coffee intake and miscarriage. (There is research showing that moderate coffee drinking is perfectly safe, making it a judgment call for expecting moms.) There are also reports hinting that people with cholesterol issues may have more problems if they drink some kinds of coffee. Compounds called cafestol, present in coffee beans, appear to raise LDL cholesterol—though paper filters eliminate most of those compound, making it more of a concern with French press and espresso-style brews. And of course, if you’re drinking so much that you’re unable to sleep or your heart races, that’s a bad thing too, van Dam adds.

But if you’re in good shape and enjoy coffee? “For most people,” van Dam says, “black coffee is a healthy, non-caloric beverage choice.” And it should go without saying that the benefits conferred to coffee do not extend to mocha-flavored “coffee drinks” or other sugar-loaded concoctions.

“Coffee is a highly complex beverage with hundreds of compounds,” van Dam says, which means it affects people differently. Van Dam doesn’t recommend people who don’t already drink the stuff start now, but if you love it, can tolerate it, and it isn’t messing with your sleep? Bottoms up.

TIME Drugs

FDA Warns Against Powdered Caffeine

The agency issued a statement Friday recommending that consumers avoid the potent powders

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning Friday about the dangers of pure powdered caffeine after the death of a teenager in Ohio in May.

A mere teaspoon of pure powdered caffeine, the FDA said, is equivalent to 25 cups of coffee and can be lethal. “Pure caffeine is a powerful stimulant and very small amounts may cause accidental overdose. Parents should be aware that these products may be attractive to young people,” the agent noted. The substance can be easily purchased online.

Taking too much of the drug can result in heartbeat disruptions, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea and disorientation. “These symptoms are likely to be much more severe than those resulting from drinking too much coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverages,” according to the statement.

The announcement comes almost two months after Logan Steiner, 18, of LeGrange, Ohio, died after overdosing on powdered caffeine on May 27.

TIME Caffeine

Prom King Died From Caffeine Powder Overdose

Logan Stiner, 18, died after ingesting a toxic amount of caffeine

Correction appended

The death of an Ohio high school senior just shy of his graduation has officially been attributed to a caffeine overdose.

On May 27, recently elected prom king Logan Stiner, 18, came home for lunch and ingested enough caffeine powder to cause an irregular heartbeat and seizures. His brother found him dead next to the white powder.

“I never thought it would hurt an 18-year-old child,” neighbor Lora Balka told WKYC.

Lorain County Coroner Steven Evans said Saturday that 1/16 a teaspoon of power has the caffeine equivalent of one can of Mountain Dew or a high-power energy drink. No one saw how much powder Stiner drank or knows where he got it from, but Evans said that it can be purchased online.

In October 2013, a British man died from a caffeine overdose after eating too many Hero Instant Energy Mints. Every mint contains the caffeine found in a can of Red Bull and the label advises taking no more than five in a 24-hour period. The coroner did not disclose how many pills John Jackson, 40, ingested.

“I am as certain as I can be that Mr. Jackson did not know he was exposing himself to danger,” said Coroner Robin Balmain, who vowed to write to the U.K.’s Department of Health regarding the potential dangers of high energy products.

In 2010, a 23-year-old man died in Nottingham, England after ingesting two spoonfuls of caffeine powder at a party with friends, which is the equivalent of 70 cans of Red Bull. The label warned to only take one-sixteenth of a teaspoon.

“Caffeine is so freely available on the internet,” coroner Nigel Chapman said, “but it’s so lethal if taken in the wrong dose and here we see the consequence.”

This article originally misstated how Lora Balka was related to the victim. She is a neighbor.

TIME Exercise

5 Reasons to Drink Coffee Before Your Workout

Coffee cup and pot
Tammy Lee Bradley—Getty Images/Moment Open

Half of Americans start their day with coffee, and according to recent study, working out after downing a cup of java may offer a weight loss advantage. The Spanish study, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, found that trained athletes who took in caffeine pre-exercise burned about 15% more calories for three hours post-exercise, compared to those who ingested a placebo. The dose that triggered the effect was 4.5 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. For 150-pound woman (68 kg), that’s roughly 300 mg of caffeine, the amount in about 12 ounces of brewed coffee, a quantity you may already be sipping each morning.

If you’ve always thought of coffee as a vice—one you’re simply not willing to give up—you’ll be happy to know that it’s actually a secret superfood. And if you exercise, caffeine can offer even more functional benefits for your workouts. Here are five more reasons to enjoy it as part of an active lifestyle, along with five “rules” for getting your fix healthfully.

Health.com: 12 Surprising Sources of Caffeine

Improved circulation

Recent Japanese research studied the effects of coffee on circulation in people who were not regular coffee drinkers. Each participant drank a 5-ounce cup of either regular or decaffeinated coffee. Afterward, scientists gauged finger blood flow, a measure of how well the body’s smaller blood vessels work. Those who downed “regular” (caffeinated) coffee experienced a 30% increase in blood flow over a 75-minute period, compared to those who drank the “unleaded” (decaf) version. Better circulation, better workout—your muscles need oxygen!

Less pain

Scientists at the University of Illinois found that consuming the caffeine equivalent of two to three cups of coffee one hour before a 30-minute bout of high-intensity exercise reduced perceived muscle pain. The conclusion: caffeine may help you push just a little bit harder during strength-training workouts, resulting in better improvements in muscle strength and/or endurance.

Health.com: 15 Natural Back Pain Remedies

Better memory

A study published this year from Johns Hopkins University found that caffeine enhances memory up to 24 hours after it’s consumed. Researchers gave people who did not regularly consume caffeine either a placebo, or 200 mg of caffeine five minutes after studying a series of images. The next day, both groups were asked to remember the images, and the caffeinated group scored significantly better. This brain boost may be a real boon during workouts, especially when they entail needing to recall specific exercises or routines.

Muscle preservation

In an animal study, sports scientists at Coventry University found that caffeine helped offset the loss of muscle strength that occurs with aging. The protective effects were seen in both the diaphragm, the primary muscle used for breathing, as well as skeletal muscle. The results indicate that in moderation, caffeine may help preserve overall fitness and reduce the risk of age-related injuries.

Health.com: 14 Reasons You’re Always Tired

More muscle fuel

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that a little caffeine post-exercise may also be beneficial, particularly for endurance athletes who perform day after day. The research found that compared to consuming carbohydrates alone, a caffeine/carb combo resulted in a 66% increase in muscle glycogen four hours after intense, glycogen-depleting exercise. Glycogen, the form of carbohydrate that gets stockpiled in muscle, serves as a vital energy “piggy bank” during exercise, to power strength moves, and fuel endurance. Packing a greater reserve means that the very next time you work out, you’ve upped your ability to exercise harder and/or longer.

But this news doesn’t mean you should down as much coffee as possible—your good intentions may backfire. In my work with athletes, I recommend five basic rules to best reap caffeine’s rewards:

  • Don’t overdo it. The maximum amount of caffeine recommended for enhancing performance with minimal side effects is up to 6 mg per kg body weight, which is about 400 mg per day (or about 16 ounces of coffee) for a 150-pound woman.
  • Incorporate it in healthy ways: doctor up coffee with almond milk and cinnamon instead of cream and sugar, or whip coffee or tea into a fruit smoothie, along with other nutrient-rich ingredients like almond butter and oats or quinoa.

Health.com: 11 Ways to Boost Your Energy With Food

  • Be consistent with your intake. Research shows that when your caffeine intake is steady, your body adjusts, which counters dehydration, even though caffeine is a natural diuretic. In other words, don’t reach for two cups one day and four the next.
  • Keep drinking good old H2O your main beverage of choice.
  • Nix caffeine at least six hours before bed to prevent sleep interference, and listen to your body. If you’re relying on caffeine as an energy booster because you’re tired, get to the root of what’s causing fatigue. Perhaps it’s too little sleep, overexercising, or an inadequate diet. If something’s off kilter, you won’t see progress, and you’ll likely get weaker rather than stronger. Striving for balance is always key!

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME

Boys and Girls Are Impacted By Caffeine Differently

New research shows even low doses of caffeine impact kids, and bodies of boys and girls react differently

Boys and girls’ bodies react differently to caffeine after they hit puberty, new research shows.

It’s established that caffeine consumption can increase blood pressure and lower heart rate in adults, and researchers from University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York, have shown in the past that the same side effects happen in kids. This new research, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that the different ways caffeine affects males and females starts at puberty, with boys’ hearts more affected than girls’.

The researchers are unsure why exactly there are reaction differences—it could be due to hormones or other physiological factors—but it’s concerning since doses were low, at 1 and 2 mg/kg, and since caffeinated energy drinks are popular among kids and teens.

Last year, the FDA announced it was starting to look into the safety of added caffeine in products for youth and adolescents. The announcement was made just as gum-maker Wrigley had introduced its newest product, Alert Energy Gum, which it then pulled from market. When it comes to products like 5-hour Energy and Monster energy drinks, the FDA has reported hospitalizations from the products and reported that energy drinks were cited in at least 13 teen deaths. Reports do not necessarily mean energy beverages caused illness or death, but the correlation was worrying.

Currently, the FDA does not require the amount of caffeine in a product to be included on food labels. Since the FDA says caffeine is a natural chemical found in items like tea leaves and coffee beans, it’s regulated as an ingredient not a drug. Energy drinks are not regulated because they are sold as dietary supplements. A 2012 Consumer Reports review of 27 best-selling energy drinks found that 11 do not list caffeine content. Among those that do, the tested amount was on average 20% higher than what was on the label.

The FDA says 400 milligrams a day, about four or five cups of coffee, is generally not considered dangerous for adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine consumption among young kids and adolescents.

The latest study did have weaknesses, since its study group was primarily among white, middle class, and well educated, and they could not completely confirm that control groups were totally abstinent when it came to consuming caffeine. Still, the research is important as medical and governmental groups take a closer look at how the stimulant may be impacting children’s health.

TIME Space Exploration

The International Space Station Is Getting an Espresso Machine

The lattes will be out of this world

The International Space Station is 240 miles above earth, but that doesn’t mean astronauts don’t have a hard time getting up in the morning — after all, they can make a run to the stars, but not a run to the Starbucks.

But the ISS is about to get a little caffeinated pep in its one-small-step-for-man, in the form of ISSpresso, its very own, customized espresso machine. Italian coffee brand Lavazza teamed up with aerospace engineering company Argotec to design the device, which will be the first machine designed to withstand travel when it arrives at the space station later this year as a part of the Italian Space Agency’s Futura Mission.

When it connects, astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti won’t just become the first Italian woman in space — she’ll likely be the first person in space to sip an Italian espresso.

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