Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Word on Caffeine

Quoting Daniel 1:3-20, the First Presidency has clarified what the Word of Wisdom, or D&C 89, would have us avoid. They wrote:

Never use tobacco products, such as cigarettes, snuff, chewing tobacco, cigars, and pipe tobacco. They are very addictive and will damage your body and shorten your life. Also, do not drink coffee or tea, for these are addictive and harmful.

Any form of alcohol is harmful to your body and spirit. Being under the influence of alcohol weakens your judgment and self-control and could lead you to break the law of chastity or other commandments. Drinking can lead to alcoholism, which destroys individuals and families.

Any drug, chemical, or dangerous practice that is used to produce a sensation or “high” can destroy your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. These include hard drugs, prescription or over-the-counter medications that are abused, and household chemicals.

Even with this clarification, members of the Church have sometimes wondered whether caffeine is or isn't prohibited by the Word of Wisdom. At least two prophets have commented on this matter. In the April 1922 General Conference, President Heber J. Grant said:

I am not going to give any command, but I will ask it as a personal, individual favor to me, to let coca-cola alone. There are plenty of other things you can get at the soda fountains without drinking that which is injurious. The Lord does not want you to use any drug that creates an appetite for itself.

President Kimball said something similar:

Wisdom goes beyond the letter of the law. Generally when we speak of the Word of Wisdom, we are talking about tea, coffee, tobacco, and liquor, and all of the fringe things even though they might be detrimental are not included in the technical interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. I never drink any of the cola drinks and my personal hope would be that no one would. However, they are not included in the Word of Wisdom in its technical application.

I quote from a letter from the secretary to the First Presidency, 'But the spirit of the Word of Wisdom would be violated by the drinking or eating of anything that contained a habit-forming drug.' With reference to the cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken any attitude on this, but I personally do not put them in the class as with the tea and coffee because the Lord specifically mentioned them.

Thirty years later, the Church still has not taken an official position on caffeine. They have, from time to time, warned of its dangers in Ensign articles or passing comments in local conferences, but the ultimate choice is left up to the members of the Church. It is then our responsibilities to be good stewards, making choices that will lead us back to our Heavenly Father according to the dictates of our own inspiration and conscience.


  1. I find it interesting that the prophetic quotes take issue with cola drinks themselves more than the caffeine in the cola drinks. That is not unlike the situation with coffee, where even decaf is against the Word of Wisdom. That could be an effect of the timing of these quotes (neither one came before there was such a thing as decaf soda), or it could be a comment on cola itself (harmful with or without the caffeine), or some combination of the two.

    Whatever it is, I'm glad this is something left to the conscience of the individual members. That approach requires us to seek and follow revelation of our own free will, allowing for maximum agency while creating maximum accountability-- a good formula in matters such as this.

  2. From a 1981 Ensign:

    Q. What are the health consequences of drinking caffeine drinks other than coffee? What is the position of the Church regarding their use?

    A. The full answer to this question lies in the area of medical opinion and reliance on personal discernment. Cola beverages do contain caffeine and thus may be avoided in accordance with the spirit of the Word of Wisdom. The most current Church literature relating to the question is found in a Priesthood Bulletin statement dated February 1972:

    “With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.”

    There is no current Church policy that would preclude a bishop issuing a temple recommend to a person who consumes cola beverages. However, Cola beverages contain caffeine in amounts that are approximately one-half to one-fourth the amount in a cup of coffee, depending upon the size of the bottle. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that certainly tends to become addictive in its use, with the attendant side effects of nervous-system stimulants. Frequent use of cola beverages can lead to an addictive pattern similar to that observed in coffee drinkers.