Trying to stay awake? That cup of coffee may come with a hidden cost

| 4/24/2003

Communion in church may mean a drink of wine, but for truckers, the communion cup of choice is filled with coffee – preferably served in their favorite truckstop, and with frequent refills.

But while the java jolt may keep you awake on long drives, it may also be shortening your life – especially when combined with a popular perk pill, according to a recent study.

Scientists at South Dakota State University say their research indicates people who use caffeine and ephedra before exercise put a heavier demand on their hearts.

According to information supplied by project director Matthew Vukovich, the study looked at factors such as heart rate and blood pressure before, during and after exercise in people who had ingested 150 mg of caffeine and 20 mg of ephedrine.

The combination increased both the heart rate and systolic blood pressure, placing a heavier strain on the heart. The subjects of the study showed higher heart rate and blood pressure even after 60 minutes of rest.

Ephedra is an herbal supplement frequently sold at convenience stores, and is often marketed as an “energy booster” and weight-loss aid. However, while the product is available over-the-counter, that does not mean it’s a good idea to use it.

According to HealthScout, a health information Web site, the supplement is linked to almost 100 deaths, including high school, college and professional athletes who have collapsed during games or practice. For some, the danger is especially acute.

“If you have an underlying condition that you're not aware of, ephedra can be fatal,” Erin Smith, a Lee's Summit, MO, pharmacist, said. “I would never recommend … any of those products.”

Donna Ryun of OOIDA’s member services said “I haven't found any specific mention of ephedra” in the federal regulations. However, Ryun did say that truckers who are about to take a drug test “should advise attending physician of any non-prescription drugs (even herbal) that you are taking.” Ephedra can initially cause a false positive on drug tests, making it look as if the trucker has taken a forbidden substance.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at