Like many college students, Dana Mears begins her day with two cups of coffee. On the other hand, unlike many students, this sophomore pre-medicine major follows these cups with about two more in the afternoon, another cup for dinner and one more at night.
Mears is nothing short of a self proclaimed coffee addict. “I drink it because I love it,” Mears said. “I love the taste, the different flavors, and it gives me a swift kick in the butt when I’m moving slow.”
Before guzzling down as much coffee as Mears, take a look at the facts.
Tea is often thought to be a healthy drink because it fights heart disease. Studies conducted over the past several years have found drinking tea lowers the risk for cardiovascular diseases and decreases the risk of a heart attack by 44 percent, according to a study published in a May 2002 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
Coffee may be even better for the heart. A seven-year study, the Scottish Heart Health study, concluded that coffee drinkers are less likely to die from heart disease than tea drinkers. The study was conducted by the Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, Scotland.
Tea’s nutritional supplements, catechins and fluoride, contribute to bone density growth, which can help prevent osteoporosis, according to a published study in a June 2003 issue of Town and Country magazine.
Tea has also been found to prevent and help heal sun-damaged skin. Researchers at Arizona State University recently found that black tea helps fight skin cancer. Green tea extracts found in some lotions also help to reduce the effects of sunburn.
Though tea can improve overall health in a variety of ways, it still contains high levels of caffeine.
“The xanthines, caffeine and theobromine, which are found in coffee and tea, respectively, do have stimulant and diuretic properties which are not always favorable,” said Dr. Steve Permut, the department chairperson of the Temple School of Medicine.
Mears has had first hand experience of the negative effects of coffee addiction. During a three-hour biology exam Mears accidentally knocked over her mug, spilling all of her coffee
“The first hour went OK, but after that I was in a complete fog,” Mears said. “[I] almost yelled at my teaching assistant for making us take such a stupid midterm and refused to talk to anyone in my class because I was so irritated. I’m pretty dangerous when I’m coffee deprived.”
Despite its negative associations, coffee is still more popular than tea. According to Euromonitor International, a global research organization, coffee sales in 2004 were $36,170,000 while tea sales reached $19,804,000 as reported by the beverage industry.
Patrick Carr, a sophomore film major, drinks coffee instead of tea because he said he “gets more caffeine that way.”
Mears began drinking coffee “as something to keep me awake, and now it’s one of my passions.”
A new antioxidant study, performed by chemistry professor Joe A. Vinson of the University of Scranton, compared the amount of antioxidants in foods to the amount of that food the average person eats.
According to the antioxidant study, because the average person drinks three cups of coffee a day, they are consuming more than 1,000 milligrams of antioxidants. Vinson has not concluded if coffee’s antioxidants are absorbed and used by the body.
In comparison to antioxidants in other types of food, coffee trumps them all. Tea is the next highest, containing only a few hundred milligrams.
Most students agree with sophomore education and sports science major Danielle Price, who said she didn’t believe the antioxidant study. “[I] prefer juice and water,” she said.
Even Mears admitted that the new evidence fails to sway her opinion.
“One minute [coffee’s] bad for you, the next it’s just fine,” she said. “If it turns out to be deadly I suppose I’ll limit my intake, but until there’s substantial proof, I’m sticking with my six to eight cups a day.”
National Geographic reported that scientists commonly believe caffeine blocks the brains’ ability to “slow down” by telling the cells to speed up. This in turn releases adrenaline into the body, which is why after drinking a certain amount of coffee a person’s heart rate increases and they feel energized and excited. Another negative effect of coffee, according to the National Geographic article, is its addictive quality. Mears is the first to admit that she’s addicted.
“When I don’t drink coffee I’m a huge monster,” she said. “I’m usually very sweet, but I get severe headaches and grouchiness when I haven’t had my caffeine.”
Caffeine actually stimulates the brain just like amphetamines, cocaine and heroin do, only coffee’s effects are milder. The article also said that if caffeine drinkers feel they cannot function properly without drinking coffee, then they are probably addicted.
“Lately I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll wake up, put the coffee on, and then lay back in bed until it’s ready,” Mears said. “I can’t even move until I have that first cup.”
Morgan Ashenfelter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.