Love your morning coffee? Read this.

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First aired on Calgary Eyeopener (4/1/2014)


If you ate a tablespoon of pure caffeine, it would probably kill you. Why? Because it's a naturally occurring chemical in plants that functions as an insecticide. That's what author Murray Carpenter discovered when researching caffeine -- and our culture's love for caffeinated beverages -- for his new book, Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts and Hooks Us.

But caffeine in small doses is harmless, right? Yes, and no. "The big positive that we all know and love is that it increases our alertness, it decreased our sense of fatigue, just basically gives us a lift in mood," Carpenter said. The American military has done studies on the effects of caffeine on soldiers and discovered that caffeine assisted their alertness in critical situations, making it a potentially valuable tool. However, this boost in energy has its downfalls. "Caffeine can have some unpleasant side effects," such as causing lack of sleep and increasing anxiety.

Carpenter cautions people who are predisposed to being anxious to stay away from caffeine. This can be difficult because caffeine is more prevalent than ever: specialty coffees, heavily caffeinated soft drinks and energy drinks have all hit the market in the past 60 years. But that's not all. Recent products include caffeinated gel strips you put on your tongue, caffeinated chocolate bars and energy chews, caffeinated beef jerky (called Perky Jerky) and even a caffeinated body spray promising an energy boost.

"I've been surprised at the crazy stuff people are coming up with in order to get caffeine into it," he said.