When you read the headline, do you think, “caffeine is harmless,” or does the word addiction give you pause? Many Americans believe that caffeine is vital to their daily functioning but don’t go as far as labeling their habit as an addiction. Isn’t anything that you regularly consume and suffer the effects of withdrawal an addiction?
Okay, maybe you’re of the opinion that caffeine is a safe addiction. Would it scare you if we replace caffeine with any other drug? How about substituting sex, chocolate, or love? Those are all healthy activities to which we don’t wish to form an addiction. So, why does caffeine get a pass?
Caffeine is an invisible addiction because it’s an ingredient and not a substance like alcohol. We get our fix in various ways, like our morning coffee or a Diet Coke in the afternoon. Around 80% of humans ingest caffeine regularly, including children. 90% of American adults consume caffeine daily. It’s a psychoactive drug and one of the most common ingredients on the planet.
This drug is so prevalent in today’s society that it’s become our baseline instead of an altered state. We’re not normal until we’ve had our hit of caffeine.
How it works
Caffeine naturally stimulates our brains and central nervous systems by blocking a neurotransmitter called adenosine. Adenosine builds up in the system throughout the day, relaxing the brain and making us feel tired. You get the crash as the effects of caffeine slowly wear off, and the built-up adenosine kicks in.
Other effects of caffeine are an increase in blood adrenaline levels and a boost in the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. This potent combination creates a state of arousal, alertness, and focus. That’s why we label caffeine a psychoactive drug.
How we get it
Everyone knows we get caffeine from coffee, soda, and energy drinks, but it’s hiding in other places we don’t always expect. A leading source of caffeine in our diets comes from chocolate. An ounce of milk chocolate contains up to 15 milligrams of caffeine, and the dark stuff has as much as 35 milligrams.
The addictive properties of caffeine are so strong that some companies fortify foods with it. You may find caffeinated water, chips, nuts, and candy in your local grocery store. Don’t forget gummy bears! There’s a gummy for just about anything nowadays.
Caffeine is also a common ingredient in many prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including most cold, allergy, and pain medications. Almost every weight loss pill is just a massive dose of caffeine combined with other stimulants.
There is a myriad of health benefits from caffeine consumption but keep in mind that companies market heavily for products containing the drug. We should view any product with the power of marketing behind it with a bit of skepticism. With that said, let’s look at the good side of caffeine.
- A study linked drinking 2-3 cups of caffeinated coffee per day with a 45% lower risk of suicide.
- Caffeine consumption reduces the symptoms of depression in 13% of people, according to another study.
- Due to its stimulant properties, caffeine increases metabolism up to 11% and fat burning by 13%.
- Research shows improved physical performance after consuming caffeine an hour prior to exercise.
- Evidence links drinking 1-4 cups of coffee per day with a 16-18% reduced risk of heart disease.
- A study shows that 2-4 cups of green tea per day lowers the risk of stroke by 14-20%.
- Coffee reduces your risk of liver cancer up to 64%, skin cancer by 20%, and colorectal cancer by as much as 38%.
Okay, now that we filled your head with a bunch of studies and statistics, let’s look a little deeper. Almost every study associates coffee or tea consumption with the benefits of caffeine. Coffee and tea comprise many different compounds possibly responsible, at least partly, for the health advantages.
Also, notice that none of these studies promote better health from energy drinks, soda, or gummy bears.
If you’ve suffered the effects of caffeine withdrawal, you’re keenly aware of its bad side. Headache, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating can wreck a person’s day quickly. Most people with a caffeine addiction start their day in the fog of withdrawal before the sweet fix of a hot cup of joe.
Excessive intake of caffeine leads to anxiety, tremors, restlessness, irregular heartbeat, and difficulty sleeping. So, it’s easy to go from grumpy before your coffee to shaky and irritable after too much.
Do you know that you can overdose on caffeine and possibly die? Fatal overdoses of caffeine have been reported with as little as 500 milligrams. Some espressos contain a higher dosage.
Now that you know both sides of the story, what should you do?
Entirely avoiding caffeine is next to impossible. Even a cup of decaf contains as much as 12 milligrams of caffeine. We also doubt you’re willing to stop taking pain, cold, or allergy medications.
Caffeine does have its benefits, but like everything else that’s good for you, too much is bad for you. The answer to the caffeine conundrum lies in the title of this article – addiction. A person cannot exist in a constant state of drug-induced alertness. You’re “normal” should not be caffeinated!
Use caffeine as an occasional boost but try to avoid it becoming habitual. Change the way you consume coffee or tea by not drinking it at the same time every day. Maybe you can try a caffeine fast a couple of days per week. What you’ll soon rediscover is the boost from caffeine instead of the baseline.
The recommended safe dose of caffeine is no more than 400 milligrams per day. That’s two or three cups of coffee or tea. Doctors also recommend that you consume no more than 200 milligrams in a single dose.
Finally, let’s talk about how you consume caffeine. If you put enough sugar in your coffee to make the spoon stand up or get a Salted Caramel Mocha from Starbucks with a whopping 59 grams of sugar, the benefits of caffeine disappear quickly. The same goes for your energy drinks and sodas, whether they’re sugar-free or not.
Take care, even down there.
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