That’s what a Los Angeles news anchor said earlier this month, in response to the announcement that the world’s strongest coffee is now available to be consumed in the United States. The product is called Black Insomnia, a playful nod to a potentially debilitating medical condition that can be caused by the product.
The anchor’s tone took a dramatic decrescendo as she read from the teleprompter: “The site Caffeine Informer says Black Insomnia is one of the ‘most dangerous caffeinated products.’” Her smile faded. “Oh. I’ll have to have this one sparingly.”
Black Insomnia is actually in competition for taking place the title of “world’s strongest coffee.” Another, similar coffee grounds called Death Wish. They come in a black sack with a skull and cross bones. On its Amazon page, Death Wish said and claims to be “the world’s strongest coffee” and promises buyers that its “flawless dark roast will make you the man of the house or office.”
How much caffeine is required for heroism or to take action? At what point does the drug (known technically as 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine) actually become unsafe? Caffeine occurs in plant leaves and seeds as an insect repellant and herbicide. It is used in hospitals to revive newborns who stop breathing. It can be given a bit to induce seizures.
CNN once cautioned against Black Insomnia: “Just one cup could get you out over the daily caffeine limit.” Multiple news outlets referred to this “limit.” For healthy adults, the number is 400 milligrams per day, and it comes from sources like the Food and Drug Administration and the International Food Information Council. Four hundred milligrams results in about four cups of coffee. It’s more like one Starbucks venti.
When it comes to caffeine, which is a drug of the everyday lives of 90 percent people in America. Sometimes for their joy or sometimes the best part when they wake up—that limit can seem to be nothing or could bet taken as a challenge. Black Insomnia claims to have 702 milligrams of caffeine in a 12-ounce cup. It would be around five times as much as a home-brew, and three times as much as Starbucks’s dark roast. Keep int mind, no professional coffee drinker would stop at 12 ounces. Fill two venti cups with Black Insomnia and you’re at 2,340 milligrams, or about six times the “limit.”
With options like this standing against us, where does the 400 milligram limit come from, and how far should we consider it?
Esther Myers says seriously. She is a specialist in systematic research reviews, and over the past year she and colleagues at the International Life Sciences Institute have been working on the most exhaustive review of evidence on the safety of caffeine to date. This week the team is showing the findings in Chicago at a conference called Experimental Biology.
Myers told that the oft-cited 400-milligram limit has been out so long ago. It came from the last research review, in 2003 by Health Canada. Her colleagues were surprised to learn it had been that long, and even at the time the review wasn’t really arranged. A systematic review was done, meaning they followed a comprehensive, transparent protocol defined by the Institute of Medicine.
The team found more than 700 studies on the safety of caffeine at certain levels and noted whether the health effects occurred above, below, or at 400 milligrams. The health effects included spanned cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, reproductive, and behavioral domains. It looks that for healthy adults, 400 milligrams is an absolute safe daily limit, but for those during pregnancy, 300 milligrams would be the limit or less.
Above the levels, the researchers have found evidence that links to various things from depression and dysphoria (general unhappiness) to anxiety to hypertension to higher proportions of sperm with DNA damage.
So does that mean that 500 milligrams a day is out of the question, totally unsafe?
“No,” said Myers. “There’s a difference each individuals respond to caffeine. That’s one of the research gaps. We need to better identify differences and identify people who are more sensitive.”
The most important found from the research was, how little we know about this drug that’s actually all around us and most people consume almost everyday. Myers’s team noted some needs for a better understanding of how caffeine affects less-than-healthy adults. There are also much more to be determined about how the health effects of caffeine vary depending on how, when, and with what frequency it’s consumed. No matter how much we study about caffeine, even as one of our most studied and consumed drugs, there will always be more confusions.
And this research review also didn’t look at the oft-reported health benefits of caffeine at low to moderate doses. So the best dose-guidance for now is the latest research done about what to do and not to do. For most people, 400 milligrams is certainly safe, but not good and not necessary. The average American comes very close to that, consuming 300 milligrams daily.
Keep in mind that, some products might calling themselves Black Insomnia or Death Wish, listen more and bring it less. Note your doses in all caffeinated products and try to keep in track. Treat caffeine more like a drug than a challenge. In a food and beverage world which always connected with caffeine, the exact route to being a “man of the house or office” is as an exemplar of balance.