Has the Church Changed Its Stand?
By Allan R. Handysides and Peter N. Landless
We do not drink or serve caffeinated beverages in our home. My children question the stance of the Adventist Church on this issue because many of their church friends drink these beverages in their homes and even at church functions. Has the church changed its stand on caffeine?
No, the church has not changed its stand on the issue of tea, coffee, and other caffeinated beverages. In the 2007–2008 General Conference Working Policy, page 293, we read the following: “The use of coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages and all harmful substances are discouraged.” Also, at the Annual Council in the fall of 2007, the church administration confirmed that “Adventist health care and ministries are to promote only those practices based upon the Bible or Spirit of Prophecy, or evidence-based methods of disease prevention, treatment, and health maintenance” (Ibid., p. 297).
We have firm counsel on caffeinated beverages from the Spirit of Prophecy advising avoidance. Ellen White never talked about caffeine per se, but because her description of the effects of tea and coffee reflect the actions of caffeine, we can presume she is speaking against caffeine.
Some mixed messages are coming from scientific literature regarding studies that show apparent benefits of caffeine on health. The pro-caffeine lobby ensures these reports find their way into our mailboxes with rapidity and purpose! However, the basic pharmacologic characteristics of caffeine have not changed. Caffeine is the world’s most popular psychoactive (mood-changing) drug and is used more widely than alcohol and tobacco. It can lead to physical dependence, which by definition results in a withdrawal syndrome when habitual intake is stopped abruptly. When the intake of caffeine is stopped suddenly, many and varied symptoms may result, including headaches, tiredness, irritability, lack of concentration, and nausea.
Although death from caffeine overdose is not common, it does occur and may be intentional; this situation is more likely with the ingestion of caffeine tablets. With the increasing popularity of caffeinated soft drinks and energy drinks, however, emergency room physicians and toxicologists are noting an increase in caffeine-related problems and symptoms, especially among young adults.
In 2006 almost $4 billion was spent on energy drinks in the United States alone, and this is indicative of a worldwide trend. In addition, 500 new brands of energy drinks were introduced around the world in the same year. So-called energy drinks have significantly higher levels of caffeine than the average caffeinated soft drink. Analysis of this scenario reveals the formula being used to hook children and youth: kids are exposed first to sugary soft drinks; caffeine is then added, and energy drinks are introduced. The next step is the addition of alcohol to energy drinks, which are presented and marketed in a very similar fashion. Brand confusion can easily result, aided by the strategy of pricing alcoholic energy drinks lower than nonalcoholic energy drinks. In addition, the marketing and product design targets and promotes youth consumption, aiming for the “wide-awake drunk”! What a travesty! One in 3 teens is likely to use energy drinks compared to 1 in 10 adults. We have a duty to inform our youth, set the appropriate example in our own habits, and lobby against this evil attack on our society.
Caffeine is useful as a component of certain analgesics used in the treatment of migraine as well as some other pain conditions. It will be comforting to those who find it necessary to use such medications that Ellen White alludes to her own use of coffee (presumably referring to the caffeine) on occasion as a medication. (See Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 302.)
We do well to prayerfully and consistently apply the temperance principle: “True temperance teaches us to dispense entirely with everything hurtful and to use judiciously that which is healthful” (Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 562).
Allan R. Handysides, M.B., Ch.B., FRCPC, FRCSC, FACOG,
is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.
Peter N. Landless, M.B., B.Ch., M.Med., F.C.P.(SA), F.A.C.C.,
is ICPA executive director and associate director of the Health Ministries Department.