CAFFEINE QUIRKS AND PERKS
Coffee is the most common form of caffeine in North America
Caffeine is like a love-hate relationship. If we have too much of it we feel crazy, too little and we feel as though we cannot function. On top of it all, there are multiple studies either declaring caffeine’s benefit or insisting impairment to our health. Caffeine lovers can breathe a sigh of relief. It appears that moderate caffeine consumption is not related to long-term, negative health effects. However, there are a few things to consider when making caffeine part of a healthy lifestyle.
Caffeine’s #1 perk is its stimulating effect. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that produces increased alertness and improves our ability to concentrate. This is likely part of the reason you drink or eat it, if not the entire reason. There are claims that caffeine has additional health benefits, such as the ability to decrease risk of disease, improve athletic performance and boost memory. When caffeine is consumed in coffee, tea, and dark chocolate, compounds in these foods and beverages may also be delivering cell-protecting antioxidants and even minerals, such as magnesium in dark chocolate. In these instances, the health benefits are not directly from the caffeine but from other properties in the food or drink. However, more research needs to be conducted to validate these additional health claims.
You may notice that by the fifth or sixth cup of coffee, you are feeling anxious or jittery. This is caffeine intoxication or what is commonly referred to as “the jitters”. This is the hallmark effect of too much caffeine. Heavy caffeine consumption can also result in increased heart rate, headaches, irritability, muscle cramps, nausea, diarrhea and/or constipation.
Poor sleep quality. Caffeine has been shown to prolong sleep latency (the amount of time that it takes to fall asleep) and decrease total sleep duration. Caffeine has a half life of 3-7 hours. To avoid sleep disturbances, do not drink caffeine within eight hours of bedtime.
Insomnia. Once sleep starts suffering, caffeine is often used to push through the fatigue, leading to heavy caffeine consumption throughout the day. Once bedtime arrives, too much caffeine inhibits the body from relaxing and falling asleep. When a pattern is established, a “caffeine cycle” is set in motion and insomnia persists.
Poor nutritional quality. Caffeine tends to have an appetite-suppressing effect, often leading to skipped meals. Research has shows that coffee-drinking often goes with less healthy behaviors such as smoking and poor nutrition choices. Make sure mealtimes and nutrition choices do not suffer as a result of caffeine intake.
High blood pressure. Some evidence suggests that caffeine can increase blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), try decaffeinated beverages or talk to your doctor about appropriate caffeine intake for your condition.
Medication and herbal interactions. Caffeine can interact with some antiobiotics and herbal supplements, most notably theophylline, ciprofloxacin (Cipro), norfloxacin (Noroxin), and ephedra. Ephedra has been banned by the FDA, but can still be found in herbal teas. Be sure to discontinue your caffeine use while taking any of these medications or herbs.
The Source Makes a Difference
The form that we get caffeine can have an effect on our health, but caffeine itself does not appear to have negative, long-term health effects. Caffeine is often synonymous with beverages such as coffee, tea and soda. When caffeine is delivered in high-calorie drinks, such as mochas and frappuccinos, sugar-laden energy drinks and soda, our weight can suffer over time. Excess weight increases the risk for diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. It is important to evaluate the amount of calories or sugar that is coming with your caffeine jolt. It may be delivering more of a punch than you thought. The next time you reach for caffeine, try a skinny latte, diet soda or unsweetened tea.
Moderation, as with all things, is the recommendation for caffeine. Moderate consumption is considered to be 200-300 milligrams, which is about two to four cups of regular, brewed coffee per day. Heavy consumption begins at about 500-600 milligrams, which is about four to seven cups of coffee per day. It is usually at this amount and beyond that caffeine’s quirks may be noticeable. Take a look at the table below for caffeine content of common caffeine-containing items.
|Item||Amount||Caffeine Content (mg)|
|Coffee, brewed||8 fl. oz||95-200|
|Espresso||1 shot (1 fl. oz)||58-75|
|Coca-Cola, regular||12 fl. oz||35|
|Mountain Dew, regular or diet||12 fl. oz||54|
|Black Tea||8 fl. oz||40-120|
|Black Tea, decaffeinated||8 fl. oz||2-10|
|Lipton Brisk Lemon Iced Tea||12 fl. oz||7|
|Nestea Iced Tea||12 fl. oz||26|
|Monster Energy Drink||16 fl. oz||160|
|Red Bull||8.3 fl. oz||76|
|Excedrin, Extra Strength||2 tablets||130|
|NoDoz, Max Strength||1 tablet||200|
|Hershey’s Milk Choc Bar||1.55 oz||9|
|Hershey’s Special Dark Choc Bar||1.45 oz||31|
Adapted from Mayo Clinic: Caffeine content for coffee, tea, soda and more
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
In 2008, The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology published a study that suggested women who drank more than 200 mg of caffeine per day were twice as likely to have a miscarriage. More research needs to be done, however the March of Dimes educates pregnant women to consume no more than 200 mg of caffeine, or one to two cups of coffee, per day. When breastfeeding, caution should also be used. Caffeine consumed by the mother will be present in the breast milk, which has the potential to cause irritability, gas, and sleeplessness in the infant.
Moderate amounts of caffeine consumption (200-300mg of caffeine per day) can be included in a healthy lifestyle without significant side effects or negative, long-term health concerns.
Mayo Clinic: Caffeine: How much is too much?
Harvard School of Public Health: Ask the expert: Coffee and Health