The Effects of Caffeine

What it does to your body…

Effects on Mood

We have already seen how caffeine behaves as a stimulant and a psychoactive drug, which alters the mood. Caffeine influences our body in many ways. Let’s return to the effect on the mood and mind. Caffeine has been shown to influence mood, which demonstrates the impact it has over the central nervous system. Isn’t that the primary reason why people want to have a morning bed-tea? Since caffeine is a mood-lifter and increases endurance levels, both physical and mental, many people prefer to have caffeine in the early morning, before and/or after breakfast. According to another report, if caffeine addicts are deprived of their morning cup(s), they may suffer decreased vitality and withdrawal symptoms such as headache and fatigue. Therefore, caffeine intake or consumption is associated with elevated mood levels, and decreased intake or the absence of caffeine leads to alteration of moods, so that they keep shifting from positive to negative in a short period of time.

Effects on the Body

Now let’s move on to the next effect of caffeine on the body. Caffeine anhydrous consists of compounds that, upon consumption, induce a response similar to stress. Although the effect of caffeine varies from person-to-person, the following outline is a general guide to the many ways caffeine affects us:

  • Consumption of caffeine leads to the production of more acids inside the stomach, leading to serious gastro-intestinal problems such as acidity or even ulcers.
  • Since caffeine affects the central nervous system, it increases an individual’s blood pressure and blood circulation.
  • Though caffeine is used in weight-loss pills, caffeine has been linked to “sludgy” body figures, which occur due the increased level in the body of fatty acids.
  • Again, since the central nervous system is stimulated by caffeine, the response of an individual is quick and messages are perceived very fast by the individual.
  • The secretion of additional gastric juices and acids affects the linings of the stomach; in a few cases, serious damage is due to continuous caffeine consumption on an empty stomach.
  • Because the stomach in copious amounts secretes digestive juices, the efficiency of the digestive system is reduced due to the relaxation of the intestinal muscles.
  • As you may have noticed, the consumption of caffeinated foods and beverages often results in increased urination. This is because caffeine induces a diuretic response in our body as a result of which there is an increased urgency and frequencies of fluid excretion in form of urination.
  • An important feature of caffeine consumption is added alertness. This is because caffeine stimulates the cortex of our brain, which increases the intensity of mental activity. It refreshes the body and mind by dismissing feelings of fatigue and drowsiness. This feeling of alertness is a short-term effect, however. Moreover, some people who consume caffeine exhibit high levels of anxiety; in such cases, increased mental activity can bring about many problems and unpleasant effects.
  • We have briefly discussed the effect of caffeine on the length and depth of sleep. Those who consume too many caffeinated products and are prone to high anxiety levels may experience difficulty falling asleep, due to the stimulation of the central nervous system.
  • Decreased bone density and the problem of osteoporosis have been linked to excessive caffeine consumption, according to the American Medical Journal.
    Excessive caffeine consumption is associated with the uncomfortable experience of “caffeinated nerves.” Caffeinated nerves are a jittery feeling involving shakings hands, palpitations and wobbly legs.
  • Excessive caffeine consumption is also linked to feelings of nervousness, irritability, ringing in the ears, agitation and headache.
  • Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands to release their hormones into the blood stream.
  • Excessive caffeine consumption also causes the release of blood sugar or glucose from its storage place, due to the stimulation of the adrenal hormones. This results in a temporary uplift.
  • This temporary uplift in turn pressurizes the pancreas to produce more insulin in order to reduce the level of blood sugar or glucose in the blood. Once insulin is pumped into the blood stream and reduces the blood sugar level, the temporary uplift gained earlier vanishes.
  • Excessive caffeine consumption has been associated with anorexia.

Caffeine is used throughout the world for culinary as well as medicinal purposes, but it is imperative to weigh the side effects against the potential benefits.

Caffeine and Alcohol: Does Caffeine Counter Alcohol-Induced Impairment?

Let’s consider the relation between two potentially addictive substances: caffeine and alcohol. Alcohol is generally considered the more dangerous, since alcoholism can lead to an irreversible liver disease called cirrhosis, which has a tremendous physical and psychological effect on the addicted individual. By contrast, coffee is widely considered a sort of antidote to a night of carousing. Does caffeine actually counteract alcohol-induced impairment?

Author Julietta T. Rice conducted a study to determine the answer to this question. Her study – which involved testing the psychomotor performance with the combined action of alcohol and caffeine management of 42 social drinkers, including 23 men – showed that those who anticipated alcohol-induced impairment produced adaptive responses to alcohol. Thus, there occurred a decrease in the intensity of behavioral impairment. The subjects were made to believe either that caffeine would counter the effects of alcohol or that nothing would happen at all. The goal was to test the hypothesis that those who expected caffeine to “sober them up” would suffer from greater alcohol impairment than those with low expectations for improvement. The results confirmed the hypothesis by proving that caffeine does not counteract alcohol-induced impairment.

Caffeine Dependence: A Physical and Psychological Dependence

In fact, caffeine shares with alcohol the status of an addictive drug. Addiction to caffeine is a phenomenon known to all; most of us are terribly familiar with the way our minds and bodies cling to the substance. The word “addiction” is derived from the scientific community of “drug dependence.” In a strict sense, caffeine addiction is not necessarily a “serious” problem, as alcoholism is. Caffeine can be classified as a “social” drug consumed on a social basis, about which no restrictions or laws exist. Dependence on caffeine is not a grave problem so long as the individual does not suffer from a psychological problem such as depression. Depression is alleviated when consumption of caffeine is restricted, so that the aftermath of caffeine addiction, unlike other drug addictions, is not very serious.

Headache, drowsiness and fatigue often characterize that aftermath. The persistence of the withdrawal headache has to do with the structure of caffeine, which is similar to one of the hormones released by our body: adenosine. The main difference is that the work of adenosine is to dilate the blood vessels, while caffeine constricts the blood vessels. If you are experiencing a series of headaches, it may be due to a caffeine blockage.

Caffeine dependence may also affect one’s state of mind. Scientists have used MRI scanning techniques to chart the anatomy of the brain, as well as its activity, under the influence of caffeine. Activity is monitored by concentrating on the changes that occur in the CBF whilst the subject is at work. One subject who allowed his observations to be recorded had no restriction on his caffeine intake; according to Dr. Field’s results, an intake of two to three cups of coffee corresponded to a CBF growth of about twenty or twenty-five percent. Dr. Field then theorized that this sharp rise in the CBF is the most probable cause for the headaches, which are a prominent withdrawal symptom.

Comparison of Caffeine Dependency to Other Stimulants/Diseases

Caffeine dependency is very different from a dependency on narcotic drugs, however. Caffeine can prove to be addictive if it is taken excessively, but the withdrawal symptoms are relatively minor. But narcotic drugs have a far more penetrative effect on the central nervous system than caffeine, and weaning oneself off narcotics can be like a near-death experience. Moderate consumption of caffeine is good for health, but teenagers who commit juvenile crimes and have been misguided throughout childhood and adulthood often abuse narcotic drugs. Caffeine and narcotics do have one major thing in common, though: both addictive substances act as analgesics. When people use caffeine as an analgesic it can be understood, but to use narcotics as an analgesic is equivalent to life-dependence on that drug for relief of pain and pressure. If we want to look at this from the perspective of the law, caffeine is a legal drug, whereas narcotic drugs are not.

There is also a marked contrast between caffeine and nicotine drugs – those that we come across in cigarettes, cigars and tobacco gum. Nicotine is a substance that also has a stimulant effect on the brain- similar to that of caffeine. Nicotine addiction is not very serious either, and with moral support and a strong will it is relatively easy to kick the nicotine habit, as with caffeine addiction. But in regards to severity and toxicity, caffeine is less severe and less toxic when compared to nicotine. Nicotine can be smoked and is partly responsible for the growing number of lung cancer patients. Also, some forms of nicotine can be chewed, and tobacco gum may have something to do with the present increase in incidences of throat cancer. But while small caffeine dosages can have some beneficial effects, nicotine has no redeeming qualities. Consumption of nicotine gradually deteriorates one’s health; this deterioration may not be apparent at first, but as drug dependence increases it quickens.

CAFFEINE AND THE WAY IT AFFECTS OTHERS

Students

College students are among those who could certainly benefit from cutting back on caffeine. Students with hectic schedules and part-time jobs are particularly susceptible to caffeine addiction. As Andrew Lisi, a senior at the University of Florida says, “I try not to drink coffee. I started needing coffee because I have a crazy schedule that only allows about three hours of sleep, so coffee helps me gain hours that I’ve lost.” This is a very common problem amongst all youngsters in their university lives. While two to three cups of coffee a day is considered to be within the moderate range, college students, who struggle to meet deadlines as well as complete everything in their schedules, often, drink more than the acceptable amount. They may not notice the addiction, but as they grow older, long-lasting symptoms start showing themselves. As another student at the University of Florida, junior Kathleen Caldwell, says, “I never used to like the taste of coffee until I came to college, Now I love it. But I drink it mainly for the caffeine to help keep me awake when I go to class or work.”

Despite being aware of potential health problems, these students continue to drink more coffee than is good for them. As Lisi says, “I get shivers. My stomach starts feeling empty after I have it. My body doesn’t react well to it, but I still drink it. That’s my dedication to coffee.”

Children

Are you still onto the phrase, “Don’t drink that? It will stunt your growth!” Kids will be kids – they never learn the easy way. They’ll keep consuming anything you tell them to stop eating or drinking, only secretly. So it is crucial for parents to find effective ways to restrict their children’s caffeine intake. Children are not prone to high caffeine levels unless they have too many chocolates or beverages like Pepsi, and they are likely to fall in the moderate range of consumption.

Still, the effects that even a moderate amount of caffeine has on adults and children are the same. Furthermore, kids who drink sodas and cold drinks in hot weather have a greater chance of dehydrated compared to kids who consume juice and other caffeine-free products. It has also been found that children who drink lots of caffeinated beverages may be deprived of calcium, which is vital for the proper development of bones and teeth. Like adults, children may find that a small dose of caffeine helps them concentrate on projects, leading to project completion; but if the doses are increased, they become agitated, frustrated, nervous, anxious and fidgety. Common childhood ailments such as asthma, bronchitis and colds are worsened by caffeine consumption. In some children the consequences cannot be seen immediately, but they can pose a serious threat to a child’s healthy future. So remember to keep your kids away from caffeine! Try some tasty alternatives- a parent must always be creative when it comes to his or her child’s nutrition.

Women

Did you know that women who consume excessive amounts of caffeine are susceptible to miscarriages, infertility, and infants with birth defects? This is on top of the problems already mentioned above! An excellent example is that of Johnson, a caffeine addict. Unless she has two to three cups of coffee each morning, she cannot start her day, as she feels jittery without it. When she tries to cut back, her withdrawal symptoms greatly affect her mood. “I’m really mean,” she says. “I’m not fun to be around. People get on my nerves really easily.” This just goes to show that, while regular users of caffeine may develop a habit of tolerance towards it, it is still an addictive and potentially devastating drug. Johnson is a perfect example of a woman with an unhealthy physical and mental dependence on caffeine.

“It’s my habit to wake up and drink coffee,” Johnson says. “It’s my relaxing little thing in the morning, kind of like smoking is. If you’re addicted to cigarettes, then you have the physical addiction, and then you have the habit of having your cigarette breaks.”

ADDICTED TO CAFFEINE

Caffeinism” – Those who are extremely dependent upon caffeine and who, in spite of the side effects, continue to take and consume caffeine in order to carry out necessary daily functions may be said to be suffering from “Caffeinism.” These people cannot imagine their lives without caffeine. You may be under the influence of “Caffeinism” if you have a daily intake of more than 600 milligrams. If, however, you consume caffeinated products at a rate exceeding 1000 milligrams per day, you are approaching the toxic range and seriously need to cut down on your caffeine consumption. “Caffeinism” is more similar to a drug addiction than a lower grade coffee addiction and you are advised to consult a psychiatrist before discontinuing the use of caffeine. Some symptoms of “Caffeinism” to which you should pay careful attention is:

  • Feelings of anxiety and nervousness
  • Sleep disruption
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Diuresis
  • Stomach upsets, including gastro-intestinal problems
  • Tremulousness
  • Palpitations
  • Arrhythmias

According to MedLine, Caffeinism is associated with many psychotropic effects due to excessive intake. Increased caffeine intake is linked with increased anxiety and depression and also results in anxiety and panic disorders. Because our body cannot retain or store caffeine, the life span of caffeine inside your body is very short. But while caffeine is present, it can pack a wallop.

The following marks physiological effects of caffeine:

  • Heart rate is stimulated and arteries are dilated.
  • Cardiac arrhythmia may occur.
  • As the cerebral blood vessels constrict, a decreased amount of blood flows to the brain.
  • There is relief from the headache that one continuously experiences.
  • Peptic ulcers and acidity result due to increased secretion of gastric juices.
  • There is increased urine production.
  • Due to bronchial relaxation, there is an anti-asthmatic effect on the body’s system.
  • Last but not the least is the increased basal metabolic rate (otherwise known as BMR).

DETOX

Caffeine detoxification is phrase many of us know but few of us practice. Dr. Elson M. Haas, author of Staying Healthy with Nutrition, has given “caffeine-hooked” people an effective means of recovery by devoting an entire section of his book to it. His first suggestion for caffeine detoxification is to have an alkaline diet, in which fruits are consumed as snacks; greens, sprouts, soy and seaweed, along with some seeds and nuts, are the fundamental foods of this diet. Acid-rich foods such as meat, sugar and over-baked food help, too. Dr. Haas also suggests that caffeine-hooked individuals drink at least six to eight glasses of water daily. Those experiencing withdrawal symptoms may want to take vitamin C as a supplement, as it supports the adrenals. Those who drink coffee regularly are deficient in vitamins such as B1, B2, B6, C, as well as in potassium, calcium, magnesium and others, so it is vital that they take supplements to make up the deficient areas. Some fiber in the diet also helps, along with water intake.

COLD TURKEY

We’ve all heard about quitting smoking “cold turkey”; the same term applies here with the same meaning. Quitting an addictive substance immediately and completely can be very, very challenging. Moreover, it causes an individual to suffer through a period of severe uneasiness and discomfort. That is why a gradual decrease in caffeine consumption (as with any addictive substance) is preferred. And while it’s true that many people find “cold turkey” a tough method for quitting caffeine, it can very well serve as a learning experience.

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