Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

« Previous Post | Opinion L.A. Home | Next Post »

Health: Ban caffeine or risk 'White Christmas' syndrome

June 9, 2011 | 10:07 am

Espresso We banned liquor once. We've practically banned smoking. Some people now want to ban circumcision.

But do we have the courage to ban caffeine?

It's not about a "nanny state." It's about saving our minds.

It seems that "Australian researchers at La Trobe University have just published a study suggesting that people on a serious caffeine buzz are prone to hear things that aren't there," The Times reported Wednesday on its Booster Shots blog.

It gets worse. As the post details:

The researchers brought volunteers to a lab. The subjects -- some highly caffeinated, some not -- put on headphones that pumped out white noise. They were told that Bing Crosby’s "White Christmas" would be playing in the background, which was actually just a white lie. Even though Bing wasn’t anywhere around, some of the caffeine-addled listeners said they could hear the song … The researchers concluded that five regular cups of coffee could be enough to increase the risk of auditory hallucinations.

Admit it: It makes you think twice about that daily Starbucks run, doesn't it? Is that guy with the tinfoil hat really nuts, or has he just had too many Mountain Dews and is trying to block out Bing?

And did you know that "White Christmas" is the most recorded Christmas song of all time? Coincidence?  Sure, and there are no aliens at Area 51 either.

As with all scientific studies, and especially ones involving Australians, there are some caveats:

"The study has some flaws -- it was small, it was published in an obscure journal, and it wasn't well-controlled."

OK, right, a little troubling. But simply because these guys tested their theory on a girlfriend, a brother and the guy in line at the vending machine doesn't mean it's bogus. 

As the post continues:

The main finding seems plausible enough. Caffeine certainly can heighten the senses, and there's growing evidence that it can cause mild hallucinations. A 2009 survey found that people who drank the equivalent of three or more cups of brewed coffee a day were three times more likely than other people to report hearing and seeing things that aren't there.

So there you have it. Apparently, thousands of Americans on the left and the right aren't crazy; they’re simply amped up on caffeine. 

Coffee drinkers especially aren't going to like this ban idea. In fact, if you go to the post, you'll find related stories that show just how complex the issue of coffee drinking is. 

For example, there's this headline: "Sex and coffee may raise risk of brain hemorrhage in some people,"  which, OK, would seem to be a major argument in favor of the caffeine ban.

But then there's this: "Coffee seems to lower the risk of lethal prostate cancer." So maybe we'd have to grandfather in an exception for old guys.

And, of course, as always these days, there's an economic angle: "Coffee prices are getting a jolt."

Still, this issue should be a natural for the "tea party" types. After all, it goes all the way back to our Founding Fathers: They didn't throw coffee into Boston Harbor, you know. And I'll bet Paul Revere didn't have a couple of lattes before setting out on his ride to warn the British, er, Americans, er, oh, whoever.

But we're not here to bury coffee; we're here to save the nation.  

Who's with me?


The soda tax fallacy

Should there be a 'fat tax'?

Curbing our junk-food appetite

Human memory: What did you do last Sunday?

Does Jamie Oliver's 'Food Revolution' concept infringe on personal freedom?

 -- Paul Whitefield

Photo: A shot of espresso is poured at the Undergrounds Coffeehaus Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Comments ()