A More Fortunate Ensign Article

Since I was rather critical of an Ensign article on the Word of Wisdom earlier this year, I feel obligated to point out that this month’s article on the Word of Wisdom is a much better piece.

I thought this was a very well-balanced article that didn’t attempt to force science to support the Word of Wisdom (“Used in moderation, caffeine may not pose significant health risks” and “the Word of Wisdom does not specifically prohibit caffeine”), but did explore situations where excessive use of caffeine could be physically dangerous.

It is difficult to talk about caffeine in a Church where some people see no significant difference between it and heroin and others think that the first group are zealots. But I think this author did some good work in pointing out that caffeine abuse is something that people in both camps can agree is problematic. He did a nice job in making clear that addiction to caffeine is physically and spiritually dangerous, but he didn’t make any effort to condemn all consumption of caffeine:

Had my patient Mrs. Jones avoided caffeine or at least used it in moderation, she likely would have fared much better. Of course, not everyone who drinks caffeine will have a negative health consequence. However, both the quality and the quantity of life can be affected by the misuse of caffeine.

Note that use “in moderation” or use that isn’t “misuse” isn’t condemned. (Although it isn’t specifically condoned, either.)

I don’t suppose that this article will end our internecine Diet Coke wars, but I’m glad that it makes clear that caffeine addiction is a physical and spiritual danger to be avoided, without providing fuel for the fire of either camp in the debate. Or maybe I’m just saying that because I find much support in this article for my own thinking about the Word of Wisdom, which is that minor use of stimulants isn’t a problem until it becomes an addiction.

33 comments for “A More Fortunate Ensign Article

  1. November 30, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    I find it interesting that, when it comes to following the Word of Wisdom, there are many members of the Church who seem to take things to extremes. I remember a couple I met once who said that they never used mouthwash or cough syrups because they contained alcohol. I have met others who will not eat chocolate because it contains caffeine. I can only assume that these people steer clear of painkillers such as Excedrin or anything made to treat migraine headaches, since they, too, contain caffeine.

    Caffeine is a powerfully addictive drug, but, as the article states, when used in moderation, it is not particularly harmful to most people. The same can be said for just about any medication. I have known people in my life who were prescribed certain medications that were guaranteed to be non-addictive, and yet the became addicted anyway.

    While most of us know the things that are specifically discouraged by the Word of Wisdom, I think that the most important thing we as Latter-day Saints can do to keep the Word of Wisdom is to do “all things in wisdom and order” watching “yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds” (see Mosiah 4:27, 30)

  2. November 30, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    Just this morning a family member read this Ensign article and said the same thing, that it was a balanced and reasonable discussion of caffeine and the Word of Wisdom. The fact that this article got through Correlation and was published in the Ensign suggests that reasonable minds have now displaced zealots in the Correlation function, which is even better news than the idea that a Diet Coke or two isn’t sinful.

  3. November 30, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    There is a persistent urban legend that Chocolate contains caffeine. It would seem that this rumor is based primarily on a confusion between two similar alkaloids: caffeine and Theobromine. Theobromine is the active ingredient in Chocolate and it occurs only in Cacao. The two stimulants are related and have a similar structures, but are very different chemicals with different properties, effects and origins. There are of course, some Chocolate products that have added caffeine, but it does not occur naturally in Chocolate.


  4. Owen
    November 30, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    How do most people end up addicted to caffeine (or alcohol)? Moderate use.

    People who are able to maintain moderate use and not have moderate use turn into excessive use are just lucky (so far…), not “people making the right choice”. The whole point of addiction is that is isn’t a choice.

  5. rl
    November 30, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    I too thought the article was excellent and didn’t annoy me like the article a few months back. It got me wondering if the negative health effects of excessive soda drinking and wondering if the church has published articles on obesity in the Ensign recently..

    I would like to think the ensign survey is already at work and the magazine is getting better. I’ve enjoyed what I have read so far.

  6. Matt W.
    November 30, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Diet Coke is gross. Barq’s root beer is where it’s at. (except in Utah, where it isn’t caffeinated)

  7. Peter LLC
    November 30, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    People who are able to maintain moderate use and not have moderate use turn into excessive use are just lucky (so far…), not “people making the right choice”. The whole point of addiction is that is isn’t a choice.

    I’m not sure I follow; if addiction is the inevitable consequence, what does luck have to do with anything?

  8. namakemono
    November 30, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    there is also an article in the December New Era about energy drinks

  9. Utahn in CT
    November 30, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Apropos of the WoW, see the link below to a great poster. I always knew that Mormonism and Russian communism had a lot in common.


  10. Greg Smith
    November 30, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    I think the Mormon urban legend about caffeine in chocolate came from Elder Widtsoe. A research chemist tells me that Elder Widtsoe’s early measurements didn’t have assays that were as sensitive, and so theobromine could be detected as caffeine. Thus, some of his works listed chocolate as containing caffeine–which his fairly primitive tests would have indicated.

  11. Owen
    November 30, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    Addiction is the inevitable consequence for many people, but not all (the percentage who will become addicted varies by drug). There is no way to tell ahead of time if a person is one who will become addicted (not the least because addiction is triggered by things like stress, which can’t be predicted). Many people who use moderately now and are not addicted will become addicted in the future as a result of their current moderate use.

    Everyone can become addicted. Everyone has a different likelihood of becoming addicted. No one knows what their likelihood is unless they have already become addicted (100%).

    The simplest way to approach a decision that involves risk (i.e. a situation with a stochastic outcome but for which previous experience gives you a probability distribution–as opposed uncertainty, which means you have no idea what the probability distribution looks like) is expected value: multiply the benefit (or cost) of the outcome by the probability of it occurring. So, if there is a 9% chance of becoming addicted to alcohol if you drink it ever (This is a low guess–8.5 is the 12 month prevalence for alcohol use disorders for the entire population, not just drinkers. I’ve read numbers as high as 17% in the literature), and the average cost of addiction in monetary terms is something like, say, $500,000, then the expected cost of ever drinking alcohol is $45,000 (plus the cost of the alcohol itself). Many people will have higher costs, many will have lower costs. You then weight this average against the average benefit, which you calculate the same way. Many people will lose if they employ this criterion, since there are plenty of people at the “wrong side” of the probability distribution, but this is still generally the best approach, especially if you get to “roll the dice” multiple times.

    This is probably a reasonable approach with something like caffeine, because the effects of addiction to it aren’t terribly catastrophic. With alcohol and harder drugs though, it is also useful to consider a pessimistic criterion (like maximin) that has you look at the worst case scenario. For example, gaining a couple of years of extra heart-healthy life is NOT worth the significant risk of alcoholism to me. I would much rather die younger than end up doing any of the horrible things I’ve seen alcoholics do to their loved ones and themselves. And anyway, alcohol consumption at my age would actually increase my risk of cancer more than it would decrease my risk of CHD, so it would be stupid anyway (and I already enjoy life, so the high isn’t of any value to me).

    BTW, I liked this Ensign article too.

  12. Timer
    November 30, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    Chocolate naturally contains _both_ caffeine and theobromine — a minute on google and you can find fairly precise measurements in various scientific journals of the amount of each. From what I can see, it does seem to be true that there is more theobromine than caffeine in chocolate, so this may indeed more responsible for the “buzz” you feel after eating dark chocolate. See, e.g.,




    Not that anyone cares… :)

  13. November 30, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    In regards to the information that chocolate does not contain any caffeine, I must ask how similar caffeine is to theobromine. A very good friend of mine, who, incidentally, is not LDS, is highly sensitive to caffiene and cannot eat chocolate. She told me that she cannot eat chocolate because of the caffeine it contains. If this is merely an urban legend, then I would draw the conclusion that caffeine and theobromine are extremely similar. Is this conclusion inaccurate?

    In regards to the idea that moderate consumption always leads to addiction, I must disagree. When individual is prescribed vicodin for pain relief, and uses that medicinal drug as it is prescribed, he or she rarely becomes addicted (it happens but, as I previously noted, some individuals are more prone to addictions, even when the drug is supposedly non-addictive). When I take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief, and I use it in the moderate dosages recommended, I do not slowly build up an addiction to these painkillers.

    Likewise, not all people become addicted to caffeine just because they consume it. Heck, not even all people who consume alcohol or tobacco become addicted to these drugs. It is important to realise that it is not simply the addictive nature of some things that make them bad for you. Alcohol is a poison. Tobacco smoke, with all of the chemicals it contains, is a poison. I would as much recommend a person drink alcohol as I would they take a swig of bleach. Some things are just plain harmful.

  14. Owen
    November 30, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    I didn’t mean that moderate consumption always leads to addiction. I just meant that many moderate consumers will eventually become addicts. That’s how we get most addicts.

    Using or not using is a choice. Using and using to excess isn’t. (There is hyperbole in the latter…but it sounds better that way!)

  15. Phouchg
    November 30, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    It doesn’t matter what substances are mentioned in D&C 89. The purpose of the WoW is not to promote good health (though that is a result of avoiding harmful substances) – it is a useful measuring stick for members to bludgeon each other with over perceived righteousness. It helps save time when you need to judge somebody fast, and don’t have anything else handy. Just get out the “Brother blah blah blah do you feel worthy to go to the temple drinking that” line and let the sparks fly. Perfect for judgmental mormons everywhere.

  16. Bookslinger
    November 30, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    pooch: Maybe the WoW is a test so that the Lord can see who will be judgemental more than it is a test to see who can avoid the proscribed substances. In other words, maybe we’re being graded on more than adherence to the dietary law, and that could be among the higher purposes of the WoW.

  17. Mark B.
    November 30, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    “Diet” Coke? I am sure that when the advertising gods were coming up with “It’s the real thing!” they weren’t thinking about that saccharine-laced dreck.

    If you can’t drink Coke with real sugar (or high fructose corn syrup), either because you’re diabetic or overweght, just drink water.

  18. Aaron Brown
    December 1, 2008 at 5:40 am

    “I don’t suppose that this article will end our internecine Diet Coke wars”

    I hope not. Without them, what would we have left to talk about? I guess there’s always R-rated movies.


  19. Rameumptom
    December 1, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Good discussion. After all of this, I think I need a Dr Pepper AND a piece of chocolate (dark, unsweetened, so I can get the health benefits from it).

  20. MattG
    December 1, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    I’m curious about her assertion that caffeine has a negative effect on people with ADHD. All the research I’ve read on this suggests the opposite.

  21. Doc
    December 1, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    For the record, caffeine use to treat headaches will put you on the fast track for caffeine dependence and increased headache frequency in the long run. Excedrin is a scam.

    I am not a WoW zealot, but I really think the chocolate for health and caffeine for health fads are very, very overblown, as is the red wine for heart health, but I can’t argue they have at least one study to back them up. The bottom line is that diet and health is complex and any benefit from this or that will almost always have an associated negative. The focus on one single item in the diet to make you “healthy” is a little naive and misguided.

  22. iguacufalls
    December 1, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    another link – this time from a chocolate manufacturer


  23. Eugene V. Debs
    December 1, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    After I read the article, I wondered what would happen if the author, who is a physician, gave a talk along the same lines at a medical conference. Would people in attendance mostly agree, or would he be firebombed by disgruntled auditors? We’re supposed to take his word because he is a physician, but what would non-LDS physicians have to say?

  24. JrL
    December 1, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    Don’t miss the parallel article in the New Era.

  25. Clark
    December 1, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    There is a persistent urban legend that Chocolate contains caffeine. It would seem that this rumor is based primarily on a confusion between two similar alkaloids: caffeine and Theobromine.

    Speaking as a chocolate maker that article you linked to is erroneous. I’d advocate looking at this article on caffeine and chocolate. Typically 1 pound of milk chocolate will be equivalent to a cup of coffee. With dark chocolate the amount is far less (20%-30% as much) but then dark chocolate – especially good dark chocolate – satisfies you much quicker so you tend not to eat as much.

  26. Clark
    December 1, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Whoops. Someone already mentioned that.

  27. December 2, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    The new caffeine?

    It is difficult to talk about caffeine in a Church where some people see no significant difference between it and heroin and others think that the first group are zealots.

    Best line.

    I liked the article too, overall.

  28. meggle
    December 2, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    Okay, so I’ve gotta weigh in here. My best friend pointed the article out to me (prefaced with “I’m not trying to sound like your mother, but…”) I’m really grateful I read it. I, too, found it balanced and not at all preachy. Here is my situation: I didn’t grow up drinking a lot of soda of any kind- but nobody in my family had a problem with the occasional coke. During college, I used it primarily as fuel for all-nighters. Since the birth of my 2nd child 12 years ago, I have only gone maybe 4 weeks (cumulatively, not consecutively) without having at least one can of some sort of caffeinated soda per day. As of last week, I was probably averaging nearly 100 ounces per day (that’s about 8.5 cans). Needless to say, I’m an addict. I also hold a current temple recommend, and don’t feel the need to give it up over this (in fact, in my occasional short-lived efforts to quit, I have found temple attendance to be helpful).
    This article forced me to acknowledge something that I’ve been trying to ignore for a while: while I don’t feel that I am committing a grave sin by being addicted to pop, it is certainly contributing to a sense of spiritual “dullness” that I’ve been feeling lately, and I think it is really keeping me from progressing the way I need to be. I’m really struggling with this. It is hard- I wish there were some kind of rehab for it, as silly as that may sound. I think it starts out pretty harmlessly, but can get to a point where it is very detrimental- I was waking up in the morning craving it- I’d get a little panicky if I thought I wasn’t going to be able to have any (I took my own private cooler full to girl’s camp)- really, I had become quite obsessive, not to mention tired, cranky, and down-right unhealthy. Obviously, there are other contributing factors, but the pop addiction kind of fuels the others (if I’m pulling through McD’s for a pop, why not get a quarter pounder as well?). Feeling this bad physically makes me feel bad about my level of self-control, and on and on, which results in a spiritual downward spiral for me.
    Anyhow, this is rather long-winded, but I really feel like this was a timely article for me, as I feel like we are entering a time in history when our personal spiritual strength and preparedness will be a great sifter. So, for the past three days, I’m down to one big-gulp a day (32 oz.) May not sound great to most of you, but this is a huge improvement for me, and is taking massive amounts of willpower to stick to. I didn’t think I could do cold-turkey right now. I tried that a couple of years ago, and let me tell you, if you don’t think this is a serious addiction, try doing it sometime. In addition to massive headaches, I had full on body aches for days. I seriously thought I was falling apart. Not a pretty place to be. And while I am pretty seriously working on my food storage, I don’t keep a year’s supply of pop around (I seem to think that if I don’t keep it in the house, I can pretend like I don’t have a problem). Hate to see what I’d look like in an emergency.
    Wow. Sorry for the ramble. Anyone else relate?

  29. Julie M. Smith
    December 2, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    meggle, thanks for your comment and your honesty.

    “Feeling this bad physically makes me feel bad about my level of self-control, and on and on, which results in a spiritual downward spiral for me.”

    This is so true. My thing isn’t soda, but I’ve got other things (things that I’m not as brave and open about as you are), and while they aren’t really sins themselves, the lack of self-control leaves me feeling like a worm.

    Anyway, I’ll be pulling for you. Come back and comment when you’re down to 24 oz. . . . and then 12oz . . . and then none. We’ll cheer you on!

  30. December 3, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Meggle, according to a couple of my recovering-alcoholic friends, the scientific standard for addiction withdrawal is a reduction of no more than 10% per day for a minimum of 10 days, but plateauing wherever you want for a few days. But only reducing 10% (of the original “standard” daily dose) at a time. So rounding off: 30 ounces, 27 ounces, 24 ounces, 21 ounces, etc. Going cold-turkey or trunkating the 10 day regimen vastly increases the odss of relapse.

    I found that I have been addicted to the _act_ of drinking soda as much as I was to the caffeine. So I used 200 mg caffeine pills for a while, and cut them into 1/4’s with a pill cutter for a 50 mg “dose”. I ended up consuming less caffeine with pills than I did with sodas.

  31. john
    December 3, 2008 at 10:48 am

    More than half the Word of Wisdom addresses food, something most members, judging by my HP quorum, don’t pay any attention to, since some of them are big as houses.

  32. meggle
    December 3, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Julie and Bookslinger, thank you, thank you for your comments directed to me. I appreciate the support, and Bookslinger, I know that a lot of it is the act for me as well, so I may try the caffeine pills. I’m relatively new to these sites, and I can’t tell you how much I feel like I have found something I needed- I sometimes feel like I don’t fit in well with the “mainstream” church members, and that I’m not doing a good enough job living the gospel, so why bother- but I’ll tell you, after visiting a few websites where people were so “not mainstream” that I felt like we really didn’t have similar beliefs, it has been a relief to land here and at BCC. It is so nice to hear from people who seem to have strong testimonies, but still like to talk about how the gospel works in their lives in a respectful, non-judgmental, open-minded way. And I’m sure there are those here who aren’t members of the church, or maybe don’t fit that description- all I know is that I leave this blog feeling challenged, uplifted and encouraged. Thanks to all.

  33. Barry
    December 8, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Ask anyone in America who is not a member of the church what they know about Mormons and, if they know anything at all about it, they are likely to give responses related to one or more of the following:
    Abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea.

    It’s unfortunate that there is so much misunderstanding and disagreement among the membership of the church regarding what is a very basic gospel principle, and especially one which is so widely a recognized practice associated with our faith. It made it very difficult for me as a Ward Mission Leader to help investigators and new members understand the Word of Wisdom when they got different answers from everyone they asked about it.

    Consider the passage from which the disagreement stems: “And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” (D&C 89:9) Church leaders have stated unequivocally that “hot drinks” as pertains to the Word of Wisdom are defined as coffee and tea (i.e. Camellia sinensis). Therefore, don’t drink coffee and tea.

    But that’s too simple for many members of the church. After all, there must be more to it than that, and we need to know not only what we should do to live in accordance with God’s laws, but also the reasons why. So it has been determined that the evil core of these forbidden beverages must lie in their content of caffeine, and along with that determination comes the inevitable reasoning that, a) coffee and tea with the caffeine removed must be okay (rationalization of unrighteous behavior, a.k.a. “sin”), and b) abstaining from any other food or beverage which contains caffeine is even more in keeping with God’s laws (self-righteous behavior, a.k.a. “sin”). Adding to the sins of rationalization and self-righteousness comes the additional and perhaps more egregious sin, that of infighting and judgementalism among the members who disagree on the interpretation of this simple law, and hence the need for our most senior church leaders to clarify this simple principle in their writings and sermons.

    Let us follow the advice of Brother Boud by abstaining from unhealthy addictive practices, and let us also observe the higher laws of showing love for one another, avoiding pride and unrighteous judgment of one another.

Comments are closed.