After the completion of my series of columns on caffeine, a gentleman I will refer to as the professor voiced his opinion about what I had written in an article that led "Beware the electron-hating zealots."
As I reply to the professor's concerns it seems important to know if there is a conflict of interest involved.
By this I mean whether he, any of his family, or close friends or the institution for which he works are involved in the production, distribution or sale of caffeinated beverages or receive any funding from those sources. If any of this is true it would call into question his ability to be objective about this issue.
The next question would be if he made any effort to see whether the caffeine industry was in any way involved in the production of the articles that tell of the benefits of caffeine and caffeine containing substances?
There is incontrovertible evidence that in some cases they have managed to play an influential role in the production of scientific literature. However it is not always easy to ferret out this information.
In the same vein I need to explain that no one has asked me to write my articles nor am I getting paid for them.
There is another thing that needs to be made known and that is that there are number of different ways or methods the folks (epidemiologists) use to study what causes diseases. Some of those methods, by their very nature and the nature of the disease they may be studying are not all that accurate.
That often makes it difficult to say with certainty that something has been proven. Instead they may say "there is an association or it appears that" such is the case.
On a more elementary level there is still the question as to whether anyone has truly identified a need for the use of caffeine? This question brings up another issue which will be addressed at the end of this article.
In one of my installments on caffeine, mention was made of an article in the Wall Street Journal of Dec. 29, 2009 with the title "Good News in the Daily Grind." This article mentioned benefits from the use of caffeine-containing beverages.
However it stated that most researchers agree that the evidence is not good enough to encourage people who don't drink or use those to start. That I find very interesting in view of all the hype about the purported benefits of caffeinated beverages.
Early in the professor's article are these comments: "First there isn't any established causality between caffeinated energy drinks and risky behaviors among college students who consume them. The C&C articles deftly dodge this important question. Go look up the studies yourself and read the conclusion. One set of results is here (goo.gl/icwBg), and it clearly says that caffeine doesn't cause those behaviors, individuals already engaged in those behaviors use caffeine -- get it? No causality. The analogy here would be someone wanting you to believe that aspirin caused headaches. No, the use of aspirin is associated with headaches, for obvious reasons, but the relationship isn't a causal one."
Because of the question raised in the previous paragraph I emailed the professor's comment to an addiction researcher at State University of New York at Buffalo for her take.
Here is part of her reply, "Hmm... the physics prof does have a legitimate point, though not as decisive as he apparently thinks."
She goes on to say that since the research on the relationship between energy drinks and the problems they cause is so new there is now evidence that in some cases causality has to be a consideration. She added, "your critic here appears to have jumped to the erroneous conclusion that causality has therefore been ruled out altogether, and that's certainly not the case.."
She then referred me to an article published in the journal "Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 2011" with the title, "Energy Drink Consumption and Increased Risk for Alcohol Dependence." The authors received funding from the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
In this study, the authors carefully looked at all the factors that might cause alcohol dependence, such as childhood conduct problems and impulsive sensation-seeking and concluded that high-frequency energy drinkers were at increased risk for alcohol dependence in spite of or independent of those other factors risk factors. In other words they considered there was causality there.
Because of the new information on energy drinks the American Academy of Pediatrics released on May 29 this recommendation: that energy drinks should never be consumed by children or adolescents, although they are being marketed to this age group for a wide variety of inappropriate uses. For the benefit of those who might not know adolescence runs from puberty (about age 12) to age 20.
Now to return to the professor's comment there is one thing on which I believe both the professor and I would agree. You can't believe everything you see in print, or on TV or hear on the radio nor find on the Internet or on a website. So we have a question. Who put together the website from which he quoted? Did the caffeine industry have anything to do with that website? Was any effort made to find out?
Having said that, what the professor has written may be technically correct. But that does not solve the problem. There have been enough studies done that show that people who use energy drinks can have various types of aberrant behavior.
If one of those people goes out and drives a car and kills one of your loved ones or rapes one of your chldren it won't help much to say that it was because he had a personality problem. It was the ED that promoted it.
So if it is just people with quirks of character or personality problems who drink these EDs should we direct our energies to keeping them away from them? Should we expect the bartenders or convenience store operators to do some sort of personality screening before selling an ED?
Or would it be better to limit the sale of the EDs or the amount of caffeine they can contain? But since caffeine appears to be the primary active ingredient in the EDs could we expect that if some of those folks drink four or five cups of coffee before going to the bar the same thing could happen?
Actually there are many studies that yet need to be done. In the meantime perhaps the government needs to step in and give some regulations to govern the sale of the EDs. Some of the people who are selling these EDs are promoting them to children as young as age 4. Who knows what they do to a child's brain?
On the other hand, since caffeine is supposed to have so many health benefits perhaps we should start putting it in some form in the baby's bottle. How many people would vote for that?
An area that the professor "deftly avoided" in his article is the animal studies. How would he explain what made rats want to drink alcohol after drinking caffeine?
There were several studies showing this to be the case. Did the rats have some kind of a personality problem? In my articles early on it was pointed out that I had much more information but that time and space prevented my giving it. And what about the fact that 250 mg of caffeine cuts down on the blood flow to the placenta by 25 percent and does a number of other things mentioned in my articles.
The animal studies were done at respectable institutions, reported in respectable journals, no doubt done by creditable scientists and a high percentage of them were paid for by the U.S. government.
As far as the information from Dr. Lane that the professor questioned he was not the only researcher nor was his the only institution in which caffeine was given to both diabetics and non-diabetics with the result being adverse effects on carbohydrate metabolism.
Finally I want to address an issue that will appeal to at least some individuals and probably should appeal to a lot more folks. From a credible source I learned that more than 22,000 children die everyday worldwide from malnutrition and /or preventable diseases.
This comes to more than 8 million children each year.
Suppose that we diverted the money and land used for caffeinated beverages and use it instead to help prevent those diseases and deaths.
Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent 4 years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 21/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.