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Caffeine: The Student Oxygen?

26th September 2013
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So, freshers’ week. Seven days dedicated to the making of new friends (hopefully), copious booze (probably) and a few late, late nights (almost certainly.)

Although we’re sure you want to believe that your enthusiastic and newly liberated self will manage to remain approachable/awake all week (potential new friends are everywhere – quick, look happy!) there is an undeniable truth that must be acknowledged: after rolling in at 5am, gorging on two–day old pizza and passing out without brushing your teeth you aren’t going to be feeling too perky at that 9am fire safety lecture in the quad.

So, we deducted that you might need a bit of help. If you’re planning on dosing up on caffeinated products to keep yourself functional, it’s best to know what’s safe – otherwise you’re likely to find yourself bouncing off the walls and generally being that annoying flatmate everyone starts to vaguely avoid by week three. And we’re sure you don’t want that.

So, here are some facts: according to Livestrong, healthy people consume no more than 200-300mg of caffeine per day. This is two to four cups of coffee, which doesn’t sound like a whole lot. The amount of caffeine in tea varies hugely (anything from 20-110mg per mug), largely because of the choice of green, English Breakfast, black, etc. Negative side effects of too much caffeine “could result in transient behavioural changes, such as increased arousal, irritability, nervousness or anxiety,” according to UK government guidelines.

If you do find yourself needing a caffeine boost, we think these products might be the first that you come across.

1 - Energy drinks

Most likely to find in: Red Bull/Lucozade, often paired with booze  

Mg caffeine: 80mg in a 250ml can – same as three cans of coke or one mug of instant coffee

Energy drinks are everywhere, and are often consumed on their own for energy boost. Red Bull, it promises, will give you wings, and the implication is that you will be flying until the small hours. In freshers’ period, and at university in general, you’re more than likely to come across caffeinated energy drinks mixed with alcohol - the ubiquitous vodka and Red Bull, or Jaegerbombs - a shot of Jaegermeister placed inside a glass of Red Bull/ alternative energy drink.

Although it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to avoid mixing energy drink (a stimulant) with alcohol (a depressant) during your university career, you should probably be aware that whilst the latter will boost heart rate, the former will attempt to slow it down. This sends mixed messages to your nervous system and can cause your heart to beat irregularly. Scary? It’s also likely that you’ll feel tired once your body has imbibed all the alcohol it’s prepared to take; if you then top up with energy drinks you’re likely to mask how drunk you really are.

Also, you’re at risk of stumbling into your shared kitchen at 9am dressed as a neon fairy after zero sleep and terrifying the cleaner. Just us? You wait...

2 - Energy shots

Most likely to find in: Red Bull has a product, as do Lucozade - but cornering the market is 5-Hour Energy

Mg caffeine: 80mg to as much as 175mg of caffeine in a 60ml bottle - Lucozade Alert Plus has 120mg, Red Bull Energy 80mg

Working in much the same way as energy drinks, but with stronger results, energy shots condense their caffeine dose into a small amount of liquid. They also may contain sugar and other chemicals. Those containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre must be labelled as having 'high caffeine content.'

We think you’re most likely to encounter energy shots at midnight the night before essay deadline day, when the ideas are just not. coming. together.

The effects, aside from increased alertness, are as above.

3 – Caffeine pills

Most likely to find in: ProPlus is probably the student favourite

Mg caffeine: 200mg per pill

Although they are often found in headache tablets, if you were thinking that caffeine tablets were more extreme than chugging back a can of Red Bull you’d be right - pills taken to aid alertness typically contain 200mg of caffeine (remember that 600mg per day can make you irritable and jumpy). So if you’re fairly adept at popping your ProPlus alongside your coffee for a morning energy boost you’re well on your way to exceeding your limits before you’ve left the house. Advisable? Not when you crash over your lecture notes mid-morning...

4 – Caffeinated pipes

Most likely to find in: Energy Shisha – the only such product currently on the market

Mg caffeine: 0.3% per ml

Energy Shisha has many similarities with its traditional counterpart Shisha, otherwise known as Hookah, but  contains no smoke - rather vapour, and in fact provides the same energy boost you get from coffees, tea or energy drinks but with a twist. It is described as “a caffeine and taurine infused electronic personal vaping device that gives an energy boost delivered by a smooth ‘smoking’ sensation.”  So taurine (an amino acid that is already found in the human body and has been mooted as improving athletic performance) and caffeine replace nicotine and are heated up when air is drawn through the device.  This creates a vapour which is then inhaled by the user.  Because there is no combustion there is no smoke, and you can use your Energy Shisha for a boost anywhere you like – whether it’s in a club to keep yourself going until closing time, or when the clock’s ticking and you really, really need to sleep – despite having a hand-in at 10am.

Energy Shisha is also calorie free (you aren’t actually ingesting anything), and surprisingly delivers the equivalent effect of 15 cans of energy drink spread across 300 puffs – the results of each three-second puff lasting 15-20 minutes.  But how can it do this when it contains so little caffeine?  Because inhaling caffeine rather than drinking it, the caffeine avoids the liver all together and therefore it isn’t broken down and lost before it can work its magic.

(If you like you can head over to the Energy Shisha Facebook page, where you can win goodies.)

So, there you have it – the facts on the caffeinated energy products you’re most likely to encounter in freshers’ week and beyond. We trust that with this information you won’t overdose on caffeine and thus find yourself unable to sleep for three days, despite utter physical exhaustion. Now go and enjoy your first weeks of university – healthily.




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