The average American consumes caffeine daily, drinking coffee in the morning or settling into lunch with a soda. Caffeine has become a part of American culture—the mascot of the overworked employee, the lifeline of college students.
But as National Cappuccino Day arrives November 8, it’s time to explore the effects of caffeine.
Caffeine is a stimulant drug known for its bitter taste. The substance resides in more than 60 plant species, including tea leaves, cocoa beans, and coffee beans. Caffeine is also found in the kola nut, a small fruit used for flavoring in many dark-colored soft drinks.
Various pain medicines, weight loss pills, and common cold-relief remedies use synthetic caffeine, according to MedlinePlus. Most people ingest caffeine through beverages. Caffeine levels peak an hour after consumption and remain in the system for four to six hours.
An average cup of regular coffee contains 95 to 165 mg of caffeine per 8 ounces. Black tea contains 25 to 48 mg per 8 ounces, while cola contains 24 to 46 mg per 8 ounces. Energy drinks fluctuate the most, containing 27 to 164 mg of caffeine per 8 ounces. Caffeine tablets contain 100 to 200 mg in a single pill, and ingestion of too many can lead to caffeine overdose. Most professionals agree it is safe to consume less than 400 mg a day, which is equal to three to four cups of coffee.
Uses of Caffeine
People hail caffeine as a pick-me-up. By stimulating the nervous system, they feel alert and awake. Caffeine is also considered a diuretic, ridding extra water and salt from the body through urination.
When an individual consumes caffeine daily, they begin to need larger amounts to achieve the awake and alert feelings. In this instance, the person has developed a tolerance, according to the Food and Drug Administration. People consume more caffeine due to dependency until their tolerance rises, continuing the cycle.
Some products contain caffeine to promote arousal and energy, according to Frontiers in Psychiatry. Medicines for asthma, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and low blood pressure also contain caffeine. Yet, there is no nutritional need for it.
Side Effects of Caffeine
There are some factors that affect the impact caffeine has on an individual, such as genetics, body mass, age, and health conditions. People who don’t consume caffeine tend to be more susceptible to its effects.
There are less pleasant side effects of caffeine, including an increase in the release of stomach acid. Individuals should eat before consuming caffeine to prevent upset stomach and heartburn. Caffeine can also interfere with calcium absorption and cause increases in blood pressure.
Excessive caffeine use can lead to less common symptoms, including rising body temperature, frequent urination, sweating, and muscle pain. Other effects include restlessness, insomnia, headaches, dizziness, dehydration, anxiety, and dependency.
Disorders Related to Caffeine
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual has outlined four caffeine diagnoses. In some cases, individuals suffer from caffeine-induced anxiety disorder, caffeine-induced sleep disorder, and other caffeine-induced disorders not otherwise specified, according to Frontiers in Psychiatry. Also listed is caffeine intoxication, which includes caffeine withdrawal and caffeine overdose.
Who Should Avoid Caffeine?
Certain groups of people should not consume caffeine. Individuals who suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia, migraines, chronic headaches, and anxiety should avoid caffeine. Caffeine can cause further issues for people with ulcers. Those with particularly fast or irregular heart rhythms and high blood pressure should also limit caffeine.
Pregnant women should not consume more than 200 to 300 mg of caffeine a day. They should speak with their doctor first. Elevated caffeine levels can lead to miscarriage or underweight babies.
Women who are breastfeeding should also limit their daily intake. Children should avoid caffeine.
Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal
As caffeine is a drug, individuals who consume the substance can experience both dependency and withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms begin 12 to 24 hours after the last dose. Symptoms can last seven days, but the types of symptoms and severity vary.
One of the most common withdrawal symptoms is excessive headaches. Fifty to 75 percent of people in withdrawal experience headaches. Tremors, fatigue, and some flu-like symptoms may also appear for the following week after the last caffeine dosage.
Reducing and Eliminating Caffeine
When quitting or reducing caffeine intake, cutting back at once results in strong withdrawal symptoms. The Mayo Clinic recommends keeping track of your daily caffeine intake. Cutting back over time lessens the severity of symptoms. Do this by making smaller cups of coffee or not drinking caffeine after a certain point in the day. Drink one less caffeinated beverage per day, or trade herbal tea for black. Decaf coffee can also decrease caffeine without impacting daily routines.
But, keep in mind, there are some hidden sources of caffeine. The Mayo Clinic recommends checking the labels on bottles of pain medicine, weight-loss pills, and herbal supplements. Caffeine is also found in chocolate and coffee-flavored products, including yogurt and ice cream.
Drinking the recommended amount of water can help maintain hydration. Replenish calcium by adding at least two tablespoons of milk to each 8-ounce cup of coffee to help combat calcium deficiency.
The best remedy for exhaustion and tiredness is sleep. Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Missing sleep each night can lead to chronic sleep issues. Eating can help reduce the need for caffeine, as when glucose levels drop, people tend to feel drained. Some professionals recommend four to five smaller meals throughout the day to provide continuous bursts of energy. Drinking water and taking walks can also help keep energy levels up.
While caffeine can help certain groups of people, the drug can do more harm than good, especially in large quantities. Reducing daily caffeine intake can help improve one’s health. Elimination can encourage the individual to seek healthier alternatives for that “awake” feeling. Recognizing dependency is the first step to recovery when handling caffeine disorders.