The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 6, 2013

Caffeinated gum carries side effects worth chewing on

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

— If you’re into caffeine, but you’re not necessarily into the whole drinking a cup of hot liquid thing, there’s news for you.

Wrigley’s is coming out with a gum that has all the caffeine you’d get from a cup of joe. It’s called Alert Energy Caffeine Gum.

But before you start popping sticks of gum for that morning jolt, consider the health risks.

“Caffeine is a stimulant, and like anything taken in large amounts can be harmful or even dangerous,” said Mankato Clinic dietitian Erin Gonzalez.

The way people consume gum is far different from the way they consume coffee, Gonzalez said. Gum is consumed with much less thought, which can lead to the kind of mindless consumption that could result in the intake of dangerous levels of caffeine. Throw in coffee, tea or even soda, and the result could be even worse.

Mayo Clinic Health System dietitian Lynette LeDuc said adding caffeine to commonly used products can catch people off guard.

For normally healthy people, elevated caffeine levels can result in “an inability to concentrate, insomnia or feeling jittery,” LeDuc said. “The good news is that once caffeine consumption is reduced or eliminated, those symptoms go away. Adding caffeine to multiple food and beverage products catches the consumer off guard, and individuals with medical conditions that require avoidance or limitation of caffeine may inadvertently consume caffeine.”

In the case of this gum, users should be well aware of its intended use by nature of its name.

But as any parent knows, kids aren’t always the most cautious consumers.

Gonzalez says parents should pay attention to what their children consume. She urges them to ask themselves if chewing a caffeine gum will have any benefit for their child.

“Is this benefit worth the potential risk of side effects such as increased heart rate, blood pressure and potential weakened bones?”

She said she’d urge parents to address the reason behind wanting increased energy. Are the kids getting enough sleep and drinking enough water? Both factors, Gonzalez says, can impact the desire to consume energy-rich products such as a caffeine gum. 

“If a person is getting adequate rest, drinking plenty of water, exercising on a regular basis and eating a diet with variety and balance, the need for caffeine as a stimulant significantly decreases,” Gonzalez said.

According to ABC News, earlier this month a group of 18 doctors and public health experts addressed the Food and Drug Administration, urging the FDA to protect children and teens from highly caffeinated energy drinks. The group’s petition said, “Youth with higher caffeine intake commonly report troubling neurological symptoms, including nervousness, anxiety, jitteriness, and headache.”

For Wrigley’s part, a warning label is part of the packaging, saying the gum is not intended for children or those sensitive to caffeine.