All About Caffeine

We all know caffeine can help us wake up in the morning. Millions of Americans enjoy a cup of coffee or tea every morning. Throughout the day, we drink soda, iced tea, and energy drinks. But how does all this caffeine affect our bodies? Is it healthy or harmful?

 

What Is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a stimulant.1 This is why it helps you wake up in the morning. It activates the nervous system to help you feel more alert and focused.

Caffeine is found naturally in coffee beans and tea leaves. When you brew a cup, the caffeine dissolves in water. When you drink the brewed beverage, the caffeine absorbs into your bloodstream.

Artificial caffeine can also be made in a manufacturing laboratory. This is the caffeine that you find in energy drinks, soda, and caffeine pills.

In addition, caffeine can be removed from coffee or tea. To decaffeinate the leaves or beans, they are usually soaked in a solvent. This extracts the majority of the caffeine. A brew from decaffeinated beans might have a small amount of caffeine, but not enough to affect you.

 

What Are the Side Effects of Caffeine?

Caffeine can also have some side effects: it can cause your stomach to increase its production of acid, potentially leading to heartburn, increase blood pressure, and cause you to urinate more frequently. Be sure to drink water!

If you consume too much caffeine regularly, it can cause health problems. How much is too much? More than four cups of coffee or ten cans of soda.3 Side effects can include:1,2

  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Shaky hands
  • Anxiety
  • Dehydration
  • Rapid heartbeat

Artificial caffeine can be dangerous. Caffeine pills or powdered caffeine is much more potent than caffeine in beverages. Be careful not to overdo it with these! More than 400 mg of caffeine each day can be harmful.3

 

Is Caffeine Addictive?

Long-term caffeine use can lead to tolerance and dependency.4 After using caffeine for many months or years, people can become dependent on it. Stopping suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, irritability, and insomnia.

However, caffeine is not considered addictive.4 As a stimulant, caffeine can activate the dopamine system, the reward system of the brain.

Caffeine mildly activates the dopamine system, thankfully not producing the same results as addictive drugs. In other words, it doesn’t lead to intense cravings or substance-seeking behavior.

Thus, when you quit drinking coffee, you notice more feelings of irritability and may suffer other physical symptoms of withdrawal like headaches.

 

How Can I Reduce My Caffeine Consumption?

If you’re worried that you’re drinking too much caffeine, there are easy steps you can take to help curb your consumption.5 If you’re a heavy coffee drinker, stopping “cold turkey” can be tough. The headaches might be worse and last longer. Symptoms can last up to two weeks.

However, you can slowly wean yourself off. Cut back by one cup a day. Or replace one cup of coffee with decaf or with tea. Another great idea is to replace coffee with water. Water is healthy and will satisfy your thirst without introducing any caffeine.

If you drink a lot of soda, you can find alternatives with no caffeine. Most root beers are caffeine-free. Lemon-lime sodas are also typically made without caffeine.

You can make this switch slowly over a couple of weeks or a month. Once you have cut caffeine from your diet, continue to drink decaf or water. A regular cup of Joe every now and then won’t hurt you. Stay healthy and hydrated!

References

  1. Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/caffeine.html. Accessed 12/17/2020.
  2. Caffeine: How much is too much? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678. Accessed 12/17/2020.
  3. Caffeine content for coffee, tea, soda, and more. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20049372. Accessed 12/17/2020.
  4. Is caffeine really addictive? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://archives.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/caffeine-really-addictive. Accessed 12/17/2020.
  5. Caffeine: Tips for breaking the habit. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15496-caffeine-tips-for-breaking-the-habit. Accessed 12/17/2020.

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