Farkas: Tread lightly around the coffee cup


Alana Farkas, Columnist

It’s a typical Monday morning. Northwestern sidewalks are nearly empty. The lecture halls are dark and lifeless. The sun has risen but the day has yet to begin.

Only in one small corner of campus do students congregate. There are many of them at a time: coming and going, waiting in line and leaving happily with their most cherished item. Norbucks is the place to be on a typical Monday morning, and coffee is the key to NU liveliness.

Many may think a steady stream of caffeine is the key to a successful quarter. I, myself, am not a huge coffee drinker because I don’t like the taste. (Although when I get my hands on a Mountain Dew, I can conquer the world.)

The fact that plenty of NU students enjoy a nice cup of Joe — whether its purpose is a revitalizing wakeup call, an energy booster for late-night textbook reading or even a medium for socialization (“Hey, let’s get coffee sometime.”) — is not itself a problem.

According to the Mayo Clinic, consumption of 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is considered safe for adults. This translates to three or four cups of coffee from the dining hall or one Starbucks Venti. In fact, a healthy amount of caffeine provides certain health benefits, and a numbers of studies suggest caffeine has some beneficial effects on concentration and focus.

Clearly, coffee consumption yields positive effects on the human body. So, how could something so good also be so bad?

When coffee becomes a necessity, it becomes a problem. Caffeine addiction is no myth, especially during NU finals week. Even I have found myself chugging two Starbucks Grandes  and a few Diet Cokes to get me through the restless hours of nonstop studying.

However, for students who genuinely enjoy coffee’s taste and the advantageous effects of its caffeine, a relationship with coffee may become an abusive one.

There comes a point when caffeine reaches its optimal level, meaning any less produces milder effects on the human body and brain and any more can result in adverse effects.

According to health writer Candy Sagon, excess caffeine can harm the body.

“It increases anxiety and disrupts sleep patterns, leading to a vicious cycle of restless sleep, relying on caffeine to help with daytime fatigue, followed by more insomnia,” she wrote for AARP.

Sagon also said coffee can cause stomach problems. My friend suffers from stomach ulcers when she drinks caffeine, but she drinks coffee anyway.

Another study showed that caffeine increases blood pressure and other heart complications. Jack James, founding editor of the Journal of Caffeine Research, wrote that 20 percent of early deaths due to strokes are the result of regular caffeine consumption.

One of the most detrimental effects of caffeine dependence is its addictiveness. The Food and Drug Administration defines caffeine as a drug, and the fact that it is an addictive stimulant means that withdrawal symptoms are severe and unpleasant.

My advice is simple: enjoy coffee — drink it to be social, to stimulate your brain before class or even to stay awake for a marathon of “The Bachelor.” But do not abuse it. And more importantly, do not let it abuse you.

Alana Farkas is a Weinberg freshman. She can be contacted [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.