What’s the buzz?

 By Nika Madyoon

In a school where personal style can mean wristfuls of bracelets, blue hair dye, faded jean jackets, and sports team attire, one accessory seems to always fit in: a Starbucks coffee cup. There must be something other than their ability to enhance any look that make the white, paper cups famously adorned with the java giant’s green logo so popular on campus.

Staying alert can be difficult for members of the school community that are required to get through a rigorous schedule and a substantial amount of work each night. For some, a good old cup of coffee is the perfect boost.

Autumn Chiklis ’12 is just one example of many who have a habit of drinking coffee in the mornings.

“I don’t feel like it’s absolutely necessary, but I prefer a cup of coffee in the morning. The first thing I do when I wake up is go to the coffee pot,” she said.

Daniele Wieder ’12 cites the chai latté as her drink of choice.

“I have a lot of energy anyway, so I don’t really need coffee to stay energized. I only drink it when I really need it,” Wieder said.

Coffee is not the only option when searching for a little extra boost. From Redbull to Monster to Clif Bar, the possibilities are endless. Many opt for less extreme alternatives, such as Coca-Cola or a cup of tea. But nearly everyone has their own way of re-energizing when there’s a stack of papers left to grade or two hours of cramming left to do.

Mark Seuthe ’12 says he depends on one bottle of Monster to keep him up every day.

“If I don’t have that or caffeine, I’m falling asleep,” Seuthe said.

Normally, Jake Sonnenberg ’11 is not a fan of energy drinks.

“I can’t drink Monster,” he said.

But when it comes to 5-Hour Energy, another popular drink, Sonnenberg has a different opinion. He drinks one during the morning whenever he has a wrestling or debate tournament.

“I think it’s great, and there’s no crash,” he said.

Teachers are also fans of caffeine products. Science teacher Krista McClain drinks Starbucks Frappucinos and soda simply because she loves the taste.

“I usually drink a frap[pucino] almost every morning and occasionally I will have a can of pop during the day or evening,” McClain said.

Though McClain is aware of the increase in energy she experiences in the mornings, the alertness she has noticed is not what motivates her to drink caffeine.

“I do just fine on days when I don’t have any caffeine. I drink them [Frappucinos and soda] purely for the taste and not the effects,” McClain said.

In fact, the boost she gets from drinking caffeine in the evening gives McClain a hard time when trying to fall asleep. Being a runner and drinking caffeine can be problematic for McClain if she doesn’t make sure she is drinking enough water during the day. This has caused her to have kidney stones, a hereditary condition that was passed down to her by her father, also “an avid runner.”

So what is it that makes these drinks so effective, often addictive? An ingredient known as caffeine is responsible for the stimulating effects witnessed by those who consume coffee, tea, chocolate, or a large variety of other common products.

They have been helpful when it comes to alleviating the pain McClain experiences from migraines, a problem she has been suffering from since childhood.

“When I feel the start of a migraine, I immediately get a frap with extra shot of espresso,” McClain said.

“The caffeine constricts the blood vessels in my brain so it helps relieve the pressure that my migraine creates. Migraines are a dilation of the blood vessels so caffeine, cold, cold wash cloths, and some med[ication]s all constrict the blood vessels. Excedrin Migraine pills even have caffeine in them for that exact reason,” said McClain.

The FDA writes that the average adult consumes 200 mg of caffeine a day, what some doctors suggest should be the limit for caffeine consumption.

Studies show that caffeine has addictive properties, causing consumers to witness negative withdrawal symptoms from the substance, often referred to as a “crash.”

According to the FDA, “Experts agree that 600 mg (four to seven cups of coffee) of caffeine or more each day is too much,” and it takes approximately one hour for caffeine to reach its “peak level” in the blood, at which point it remains there for another four to six hours.

As long as consumers limit their caffeine intake, they should not be adversely affected by coffee or other forms of the substance. A central nervous system stimulant, caffeine can increase the body’s “basic metabolic rate” and, though exercise is a better alternative, can help consumers lose weight more quickly, writes Stefan Aschan on the ABC News Health website. Aschan included temporary benefits such as increased mental clarity and muscle coordination as positive effects of caffeine as well.

The negative effects of caffeine overuse are not limited to the well-known symptoms such as yellowing teeth and causing bad breath: caffeine has been linked to a number of other conditions.

Dr. Robert J. Siegel, Director of Non-Invasive Heart Laboratory (Cardiology) at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, explained the various cardiovascular risks of excessive caffeine consumption. Siegel listed increases in anxiety, nervousness, and stress level as possible negative effects of caffeine.

“It increases your heart rate and in some people causes blood pressure to go up,” Siegel said.

Siegel went on to explain that after taking in a lot of caffeine, stopping intake can cause headaches and other harmful side-effects.

More than about three cups a day increases anxiety and blood pressure and can lead to an “increased risk of racing or skipped heartbeat,” Siegel said.

Though caffeine affects individuals differently, it has generally been found to interfere with sleep, and if consumed excessively, can have severe health risks.

According to Karen Collins, R.D. (Registered Dietician) on the MSNBC website, “When caffeine consumption climbs to 250 to 700 mg per day, people may experience nausea, headaches, sleep difficulties or increased anxiety. People may have heart palpitations with more than 1,000 mg.”

Dr. David J. Clayton, M.D. concurs in his book “The Healthy Guide to Unhealthy Living: How to Survive Your Bad Habits”: “Too much coffee causes tremors and jitteriness, diarrhea, thirst, and indigestion.”

Sodas are another very common option for students seeking an alertness boost, and, though they contain much less caffeine than coffee and tea, they are also high in sugar. Diet Cokeis sweetened with aspartame, which, as Claudia Daude of the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago writes on the university’s Discovery Hospital website, “has been shown to cause birth defects, brain tumors and seizures and to contribute to diabetes and emotional disorders.”

The popular energy drink Red Bull has also raised negative attention. In fact, at one point, it was banned in France, Denmark, and Norway. Red Bull is one of many energy drinks that contains both caffeine and taurine, an amino acid. The combination of the two has been shown to have negative effects.

Chad J. Reissig and Eric C. Strain of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Roland R. Griffiths of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Department of Neuroscience wrote on the National Center for Biotechnology Website, “In addition to caffeine intoxication, the consumption of energy drinks has been linked to seizures (Iyadurai and Chung, 2007), acute mania (Machado-Vieira et al., 2001) and stroke (Worrall et al., 2005).”

At Harvard-Westlake, several students have developed alternative personal methods by which they stay focused while dealing with the demands of schoolwork and other obligations.

Jake Schapiro ’12 listens to music on his iPod.

“Coffee doesn’t work on me at all,” he said.

Annie Wasserman ’13 avoids drinking coffee, or consuming any other energy product for that matter.

“I don’t drink coffee because I don’t like it and I don’t find that it gives me any significant amount of energy to stay awake,” Wasserman said.

Austin Hopp ’12 uses physical activity as a means of staying alert.

“I usually do some kind of exercise. Then I can focus,” he said.

The reasons for and effects of drinking caffeine vary from person to person. Looking around campus, one may never realize that what appears to be another tall Starbucks coffee is really someone enjoying a hot chocolate, or perhaps a science teacher avoiding a headache.