As the use of caffeine in foods and drinks continues to grow, so do the risks. And calls for tighter regulations on the substance are becoming louder.
From functional foods to flavoured water, kids soft drinks and yoghurt, the use of caffeine in a wide range of food and drink products continues to grow at a rapid rate. And because of such rapid growth in use, caffeine is now being consumed in such high quantities that it should be considered for regulation, according to one expert.
Professor Jack James from Reykjavik University, Iceland, suggested that the 'lethality' of caffeine is being underestimated because of widespread conceptions that it is harmless. However, with the stimulant now appearing in many everyday foods, drinks, medicines and toiletries, the expert warned that we are unwittingly consuming or exposed to more than we realise.
James - who is also editor-in-chief of the Journal of Caffeine Research, where the editorial appears - said caffeine has caused 'untimely deaths' and is a potentially lethal substance that should be regulated in similar ways to alcohol and cigarettes.
James argued that caffeine-related toxicity, deaths, and near-deaths are an undeniable fact.
Indeed, he noted that a host of recent research has also suggested that that caffeine - often in the form of energy drinks - also counteracts the sedating effects of alcohol, and therefore encourages people to drink more.
Furthermore, he noted a 'growing body of evidence' to indicats that compared to alcohol alone, adding caffeine increases the risk having unprotected sex, experiencing or committing sexual assault, drink driving and violent assaults.
Among other things, the expert suggested new labelling requirements, restrictions on advertising, possible taxation, and age restrictions that would ban the sale of caffeinated products to young children.
Such new requirements could include labels on products that clearly display the level of caffeine that they contain, he said - arguing that the increasing trend for children to consume high levels of
drinks is exacerbating the problem.
While some countries in Europe and Scandinavia have begun to take some regulatory action, including sales restrictions and product labelling, James warned that most countries including the UK and the U.S.A, have a ‘regulatory vacuum’ when it comes to caffeine.
Such a lack of regulation "seems far from acceptable or prudent," said James.