Caffeine FAQ

What is caffeine?

Technically speaking, caffeine is a stimulant drug. This means that it increases the activity of the nervous system, making us feel energized.  In addition to boosting energy, caffeine temporary raises blood pressure and blood sugar levels, improves motor coordination, cognitive function, and endurance, and increases metabolic rate in adults.

It also acts as a diuretic, promoting urination and water loss. Unlike other stimulants, coffee can also increase gastrointestinal motility. There are a number of theories as to why this occurs, but most literature suggests that caffeine stimulates contraction of muscles in the colon, stimulating bowel movements.

Coffee also contains chemicals that trigger the production of stomach acid, which has a similar effect on the bowel.

How much caffeine is too much?

Current recommendations warn against consuming more than 400 mg of caffeine daily. While amounts vary slightly from brand to brand, caffeine levels for common beverages are as follows:

16 oz coffee — 300 mg

8 oz black tea — 50 mg

8 oz green tea — 30 mg

12 oz Pepsi — 70 mg

12 oz Coke — 45 mg

12 oz Mountain Dew — 55 mg

8 oz Red Bull — 80 mg

Should I be drinking caffeinated beverages at all?

Naturally caffeinated beverages (coffee and tea) contain antioxidant compounds that are extremely beneficial for heart health, cancer prevention, and mediating inflammation in the body. Caffeine itself also offers health benefits, but typically these are outweighed by the large amounts of sugar and synthetic chemicals in soft drinks, diet beverages, and energy drinks.

Certain populations should not consume caffeine at all, as it puts them at increased risk of health problems. Pregnant women should avoid caffeine, limiting consumption to one (8 oz) cup of coffee daily.

Likewise, individuals with chronically high blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmias may be at risk of severe complications, and should avoid caffeine. Individuals with hormonal imbalances may also consider avoiding caffeine to avoid adding additional stress to their bodies.

What are benefits of moderate caffeine consumption?

Caffeine has been shown to improve heart health by increasing circulation throughout the body. It also aids in detoxification by stimulating the activity of the liver. Athletes also benefit from moderate caffeine consumption by improving mental alertness and physical performance short-term.

Caffeine can also help alleviate certain types of headaches and migraines.

What are some common side effects of caffeine?

Many people report heart palpitations, light-headedness, anxiety, and feelings of nervousness from drinking caffeinated beverages. It is also easy to become dehydrated, so an extra 8 oz of water should be consumed daily, per 8 oz cup of coffee.

Long-term consumption of caffeine can create hormonal disturbances in the body, ranging from chronic fatigue to hypothyroidism, to adrenal fatigue and insomnia. This is the result of over stimulation of the nervous system, which can make certain chronic conditions worse.

Many people also suffer headaches from caffeine withdrawal if they are addicted to caffeine.

What is caffeine addiction?

Many people have a gene that makes them susceptible to physiologic addiction to caffeine. While there are many cognitive/behavioral reasons a person may consume caffeinated beverages, this is different from alcohol or illicit drug addiction in the sense that there is rarely an underlying psychological condition.

“Caffeine addiction” generally refers to the phenomenon of someone experiences uncomfortable symptoms as a result of caffeine avoidance. These often include headaches, irritability, constipation, and lethargy. If a person is planning to stop consuming caffeine, these symptoms usually resolve on their own within a week.

Is decaf coffee healthier?

Many decaffeinated coffee brands use dangerous chemicals to remove the caffeine. The safest method is Swiss water process decaffeination. Be mindful that decaf coffee and tea still contains about 5-10 mg of caffeine per cup (with the exception of herbal teas.)

In general, decaf coffee isn’t much different than caffeinated coffee in terms of antioxidant benefits. If you are a healthy adult, you might consider switching to decaf after two to three cups of standard Java.

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