Putting a cap on caffeine

25 Feb

Written by: Sarah Heap

Image courtesy of Sarah Heap.

Image courtesy of Sarah Heap.

With midterms in full swing, university students on campuses everywhere can be seen carrying backpacks, textbooks – and caffeinated beverages. Students know all too well that drinks such as coffee, tea and energy drinks can help to reduce drowsiness and improve concentration and that the primary ingredient responsible is caffeine (Healthy Canadians, 2011).

Caffeine is naturally occurring in products such as cocoa, tea and coffee. It can also be made synthetically and added to energy drinks, colas, pain medications and cold remedies, etc. (Healthy Canadians, 2011). While caffeine is generally considered safe, there is a limit to how much individuals can safely consume (Health Canada recommends 400 mg/day for healthy adults) and exceeding this limit can cause adverse effects. In the short term, too much caffeine can cause anxiety, headache, nausea and increased heart rate, whereas long-term consumption can negatively affect bone health and fertility (Health Canada, 2011). People should also keep in mind that the tolerance level for caffeine varies from person to person and that some populations are more vulnerable to side effects.  For example, intakes of no more than 2.5mg/kg body weight are recommended for children 12 and under, or 300 mg/day for women of childbearing age (Health Canada, 2011). To put these amounts into perspective, a 20 oz. cup of coffee (the size of a large cup at major coffee retailers (Barr, 2012)) contains about 150 mg of caffeine and a regular can of cola (355 ml) contains approximately 46 mg (Healthy Canadians, 2011).

People might be surprised to know that, a single serving of some energy drinks contains more caffeine than half the recommended daily limit set by Health Canada for healthy adults (Mills, 2012). In the past year, Health Canada has transitioned regulation of these drinks from natural health products to foods. As a result, stricter regulations are being implemented to increase consumer awareness about how to consume these products safely (Health Canada, 2012). For example, since 2013 energy drinks can now have no more than 400 mg of caffeine per liter and single-serve containers can contain a maximum of 180 mg of caffeine (Health Canada, 2012). These products must also now include the following statements on their labels, “High source of caffeine”, “Not recommended for children, pregnant/breastfeeding women, individuals sensitive to caffeine” and “Do not mix with alcohol”. Also, the total amount of caffeine in these products from all sources, natural and synthetic, must now be included on the product label (Health Canada, 2012).

It’s true that caffeine may help to increase concentration and reduce drowsiness, but there are dangers associated with overconsumption. The hope is that Health Canada’s new regulations will help consumers to more clearly identify products with high caffeine contents. Reading product labels carefully and monitoring one’s daily caffeine intake is the best way to reduce the risk of unwanted side effects.


“Caffeinated Beverages and Energy Drinks.” Healthy Canadians. 2011.  Government of Canada. Accessed online: January 11, 2013. <http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/kids-enfants/food-aliment/drinks-boissons-eng.php>

Mills, Carys. “Health Canada caps caffeine in energy drinks” The Toronto Star 31 Dec. 2012. The Toronto Star Web. Accessed online: January 12, 2013. <http://www.thestar.com/living/article/1308676–health-canada-caps-caffeine-in-energy-drinks>

“Health Canada’s Proposed Approach to Managing Caffeinated Energy Drinks.” Health Canada. 2012.  Government of Canada. Accessed online: January 12, 2013. <http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/legislation/pol/energy-drinks-boissons-energisantes-eng.php>

Barr, Andrew. “How does Tim Hortons’ new extra large coffee stack up against its old sizes?” The National Post 16 Jan. 2012. The National Post Web. Accessed online: January 11, 2013. <http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/01/16/graphic-how-does-tim-hortons-new-extra-large-coffee-stack-up-against-its-old-sizes/>

“It’s Your Health – Caffeine.” Health Canada. 2011.  Government of Canada. Accessed online: January 11, 2013. <http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/food-aliment/caffeine-eng.php&gt;


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: