Caffeine: The Good, The Bad And The Unhealthy
Ahhh coffee. The aroma, the taste, the boost. Many of us start our day with a cup, but when we start relying on coffee to feel awake and energized, it's a sign we're addicted to the caffeine it contains.
Caffeine acts as a stimulant on your central nervous system. Therefore, a little caffeine may give your body a boost when you need it. But when you consume too much caffeine, you could experience some unpleasant side effects, such as jitteriness, shaky hands, dehydration, sleeping difficulties, and even elevated heart rate and blood pressure.
You may also find that if you're addicted to caffeine, you need to consume increasingly larger amounts of it to get the same benefits you crave, explains Ted Kallmyer, BA, MEd Hons, editor and lead writer/researcher at CaffeineInformer.com a website that aims to educate consumers about the impact their food and drink choices have on their health.
Signs of Caffeine Addiction
To help you determine if your caffeine intake is worrisome, Kallmyer offers some simple, but telling, questions adapted from his website:
- Do you consume one or more drinks containing caffeine every single day?
- Is it difficult for you to begin your day and feel awake without having a caffeinated drink?
- If you have your first caffeinated drink a few hours later than normal, do you get a headache or feel very irritable?
- Do you find yourself planning your day around getting caffeine into your system?
- Are you relying on caffeine as a substitute for sleep?
Kallmyer points out that answering yes to some or all of these questions could mean that you need to rethink your drink choices. He points out that the general rule of thumb for a healthy adult is to try to keep your caffeine consumption to less than 400 mg per day. Some experts recommend limiting it even further, down to between 100 to 200 mg, which is about the amount you would get drinking one or two 5-ounce cups of coffee.
In addition, people with certain health conditions may need to avoid caffeine entirely. "Those with heart conditions, hypertension, diabetes, and other problems should always consult their doctor regarding their caffeine use," he explains.
Weaning Off Caffeine
If you do want to cut back, or cut out caffeine entirely, Kallmyer says you'll need to pay attention to where your caffeine comes from. For instance, while coffee is a big caffeine provider, so are colas and other soft drinks. Chocolate, some forms of green tea, energy drinks, and even medicines can also contain high amounts of caffeine.
In addition, not all of the same sources of caffeine are created equally. "Coffee from Starbucks (and other coffee shops) often contains significantly more caffeine than standard brewed coffee," he points out, so you may be ingesting more caffeine on a daily basis than you think.
Once you know the sources, you can cut back a little bit each day until you have completely removed caffeine from your diet. Taking it slowly can minimize the withdrawal effects. Or, you can simply stop drinking caffeine all at once. If you go with the cold turkey approach, realize it may lead to a headache and other symptoms. The worst of the discomfort should pass within a few days to a week and can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers. Some people substitute traditional caffeine-based coffee with coffee-like drinks made with herbs such as chicory or roasted dandelion root.
Reduce the Need for Caffeine
Taking some simple steps to boost your natural energy level may help you satisfy your craving. This includes:
- Sleeping at least eight hours every night
- Drinking eight glasses of water each day to avoid dehydration
- Eating a healthy diet
Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "Medicines in My Home. Caffeine and Your Body," Web. Accessed 12 February 2014. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/drugs/resourcesforyou/consumers/buyingusingmedicinesafely/understandingover-the-countermedicines/ucm205286.pdf
Ted Kallmyer, BA, MEd, email interview, 7 February 2014.
Sign Up for Free Newsletters
Ask Your Doctor the RIGHT Questions!
the most from your doctor visit.
Emailed right to you!
The Ask Your Doctor email series
may contain sponsored content.
18+, US residents only please.