Amp’d: the effects of caffeine

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

Don LairdIf you’re like me, the first thing you reach for in the morning before heading out the door is a piping-hot, extra-large cup of coffee. Then at mid-day to keep your energy up, you might grab a large soda and a chocolate bar for a snack. Finally to stay up long enough to tackle all of that paper work you’ve been putting off all week, you prepare a nice soothing cup of tea.

So what does all of that added caffeine do to your body?

Caffeine is found naturally in dozens of plants including the coffee bean, tea leaf, and cacao (cocoa) bean. It is often part of our diet, consumed on a daily basis in coffee, tea, energy drinks, regular and diet sodas, chocolate and some pain relievers. Like sodium and sugar, most people are unaware of the amount of caffeine they might ingest on an average each day. Coffee and soft drinks are the most common sources of caffeine in the United States, with almost half of caffeine consumers ingesting caffeine from multiple sources.

Because caffeine is a stimulant, many use it as a means to remain alert and active during the day. If used in excess, however, it can temporarily block sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increase adrenaline production. Both of which can directly impact our ability to sleep, relax, handle stress and manage anxiety. When it interferes with sleep it may produce harmful long-term health consequences.

Caffeine offers no nutritional value to our diets, but it is extremely addictive. In fact, it is one of the most readily accessible and highly addictive substances we can introduce into our blood stream.  It should be noted that mild caffeine intake is not associated with any recognized health risk. Depending upon the individual (and the studies), approximately two cups of regular coffee is considered a mild amount of caffeine. Four or more 8 oz. cups of coffee or soda each day is measured as an excessive amount of caffeine.

Caffeine usually has a stimulating effect within 10-15 minutes after it is consumed. Absorbed through the stomach and small intestine, caffeine can linger for 6 to 8 hours before it is eliminated from the body. As with any substance that promotes a physical dependence, elimination of caffeine can produce short-term symptoms of withdrawal which may last up to a week, such as severe headache, fatigue and irritability.

Other symptoms associated with caffeine use range from insomnia, sleep disturbance, rapid heartbeat, excessive urination, nervousness and reduced motor coordination and executive functioning.

Although caffeine is safe to consume in moderation, it is not recommended for children or pregnant women. As a stimulant, it may negatively impact a child’s daily nutritional needs. Moreover, a child may eat less as caffeine acts as an appetite suppressant.

Further evidence as to the negative effects of excessive caffeine intake can be seen in the photographs posted below. NASA conducted experiments that demonstrated how house spiders produce their webs in dissimilar ways according to the substance they have been given.  The research indicates that the more toxic the chemical, the more deformed was the web. These experiments were meant to examine the effects of substances on productivity.

Photographs courtesy of the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA).

Photographs courtesy of the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA).

A few tips to help with managing your caffeine intake:

  •  Avoid all caffeine (coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate) up to six hours before bedtime.
  • Take an inventory of how much caffeine you use on a daily basis and cut that amount in half.
  • Stay hydrated, caffeine deprives your body of H2O. Drink as much water throughout the day as possible.
  • Exercise –staying fit will help burn off any caffeine you consume, but don’t use exercise as a way to justify increased caffeine intake.

What are some other methods you have found helpful in managing caffeine in your diet?

In good health,
Don

2 thoughts on “Amp’d: the effects of caffeine

  1. Thanks Don, I’m a vegetarian and eat no chocolate or drink any soft drinks, but I do drink probably 2 cups more of caffeine filled coffee then I need. Good reminder…

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