Your Health

Do You Know What's In Your Gum?

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Too big a buzz is bad for kids petesimon/flickr hide caption

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Just because caffeinated gum looks like candy, doesn't mean it's harmless, especially for kids and pint-sized teens.

A 13-year-old from Naples, Italy recently had to be hospitalized with rapid breathing and heart rate, high blood pressure, a stomach ache, and high anxiety, after chomping a couple of packs of caffeinated gum over the course of about four hours at school. The doctors who related his case in the current issue of The Lancet, say the gum contained 320 mg of caffeine— slightly more than is in three cups of strong coffee, or four Red Bulls. Next day the boy was discharged with a slow heart beat and sluggishness that kept him from school for several days.

A quick check of caffeinated gums sold in the U.S. shows that at least one brand—Jolt—boasts that just one pack (12 pieces) of its gum is the equivalent of six cups of coffee.

Some other brands apparently contain less caffeine, though the exact amount isn't on the label. All the gum makers seem to be taking a buyer beware stance, if their Web sites are any indication. Here's an excerpt from a consumer FAQ on Jolt's site:

Are you worried that children might chew your gum?
- Robert K., San Diego

Have you ever been in a Coffee Shop after school at 3 p.m.? Or seen the average age of a Mountain Dew consumer? The words "Rugrats" and "Sponge Bob Square Pants" come to mind. Jolt Gum is actually the only product we've seen that TELLS you on the front panel that it has caffeine, so everyone knows exactly what they are getting (vs. hiding it - but why would anyone do that?). The American Medical Association lists caffeine as GRAS (Generally recognized as safe), so if they're not worried, we're not. That said, in a more perfect world, we think every kid should get "solar energy" by exercising outside and then get all the sleep they need

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We've heard for months that caffeinated energy drinks can overagitate teens. Some prominent neuroscientists and other docs have urged the FDA to require tighter labeling and regulation of the drinks for that reason. No word yet on how the FDA feels about gum.

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