Caffeine Gum for Troops Helps With Alertness
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
SILVER SPRING, Md., Jan. 31, 2006 Caffeine gum now available to U.S. troops is intended to improve performance and alertness in myriad tasks, a sleep researcher at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research here said.
"We've tested the caffeine gum in a laboratory where we had a lot of control, and we tested it in field studies. We found that it improves all sorts of performance and alertness tasks," Dr. Tom Balkin said in an interview at the institute yesterday. "And importantly, we didn't find any evidence that it had any detrimental effects."
Institute researchers concluded that the right amount of caffeine improves cognitive abilities, marksmanship, physical performance and overall vigilance, while preventing fatigue-related injuries and deaths.
The fruit of the research is a new product called "Stay Alert" caffeine chewing gum, which is now in production and available to U.S. armed forces and security agencies through military supply channels. Each pack of Stay Alert consists of five pieces of cinnamon-flavored gum, with each piece containing 100 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to a 6-ounce cup of coffee.
"Our studies with caffeine have shown that at the right dose it's just as effective as some other stimulants that are more powerful, like amphetamines," Balkin said. "The advantage of caffeine is that it's widely available, doesn't require a prescription, and people have a lot of experience with it, so everybody already knows if they are sensitive to it or not."
Balkin said the caffeine gum has several advantages over other caffeinated products. For instance, the gum is easy to transport and is readily accessible, and the caffeine in the gum is absorbed much quicker. Its affects also are felt much sooner.
"When you chew the gum, the caffeine is extruded into the saliva and is absorbed right through the tissues in the mouth into the bloodstream. It gets into the brain very quickly, in about five minutes. It takes coffee about 20 to 25 minutes," Balkin said.
The researchers did several studies to determine the right amount of caffeine to administer. Their conclusion was that 200 milligrams of caffeine every two or three hours was the correct dosage for most people to maintain performance, he said.
Walter Reed got involved with the caffeine-gum project after an executive at Amurol Confections Co., a subsidiary of Wrigley's, asked if the Army would be interested in such a product. The answer was yes, and experts at the institute spent the next six years researching the gum.
"We spent six years in development, giving feedback to the company about dosages, etc.," Dr. Gary Kamimori, a behavior biology scientist at the institute, said. "Our research data regarding the affects of the gum was exciting, so we published the results."
When asked about possible safety hazards associated with misuse of the gum, Balkin said the bad taste of the gum would probably prevent its abuse. "The stuff doesn't taste that good. It doesn't taste as good as regular gum, so people are not going to be chewing it for the taste. I think most people will use it for what it's intended, and that's to help with alertness," Balkin said.
"There are other products that contain caffeine, like 'NoDoz.' I don't know the detrimental effect of their use, but it's not unusual for people to use caffeine," Dr. Debra Yourick, a WRAIR public affairs officer, added.
The gum will not be issued with regular military rations, but "there is an experimental first-strike ration for the Special Forces. One pack of gum is included in each special ration," Balkin said.
The Natick Soldier Center, which manages food and equipment research and development for the Army, also tested the gum and approved its use in the first-strike ration. The gum has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.