Caffeine – Is it Good or Bad for you?
If you rely on a hot cup of coffee to kick start your day every morning, you aren’t alone. For many of us, happiness comes in a hot coffee mug. Besides tea and wine, people put their love for caffeine in the sincerest love category. According to International Coffee Organization (ICO), about 1.4 billion cups of coffee is poured around the world in a day. That pretty much explains why it caffeine is labeled as an addiction. However, it is also loved for its ability to boost energy, mood, concentration, alertness, and athletic performance.
Caffeine is present in your coffee, of course as well as tea, soda, colas, and energy drinks. It definitely gives you an instant kick that’s how it has got billions of people hooked on to it for years. But have you ever wondered how does all that caffeine affects your health? Is it good or bad? Or how much is too much – is there a limit?
While caffeine can give you a temporary mental boost (for some, it is physical too – hello, gym lovers!), its impact on your health depends on how much you consume and source.
Brewing a storm in a cup - Caffeine works as a stimulant. It enters the bloodstream and binds to adenosine receptors in the brain, which is a nervous system depressant that promotes sleep. So when caffeine binds to these receptors, adenosine is not able to work to its fullest. Basically, when it binds, it blocks adenosine from transmitting its signal, staving off sleepiness and fatigue. Instead, the body feels a sudden boost of energy and feels all awaken or alert. The caffeine-effect lasts for several hours; depending on how quickly or slowly your body is able to metabolize it. This is why some people can get an instant kick from a small cup of coffee, while others can guzzle down several cups and feel nothing. According to experts, the more you consume, the better adjusted your body becomes to caffeine.
Distancing you from your body - Caffeine also causes a spike in cortisol (the stress hormone), which then interferes with the body’s production of melatonin (the rest hormone). Thanks to deadlines, late nights, and nightshifts, our dependence on caffeine has only increased with time. A work deadline or night shift is a good excuse to drink a few more cups of coffee to beat stress as well as stay awake till late at night. A regular trigger of cortisol release, caffeine keeps us in the “alert mode” even when the body needs to rest. By blocking adenosine, one of the body’s key sleep-inducing molecules, caffeine tricks the body into thinking it is not tired. Clearly, it disconnects you from your body and its needs. A single cup of coffee at the wrong time (evening or late in the night) is enough to mess with your sleep cycle, and keep your body in the “fight or flight” mode 24/7, which is also known to be a sign of low-level chronic stress.
One cup is never enough - Caffeine also spikes dopamine levels in the body. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that activates the pleasure center of the brain. When you sip on caffeine, you get a boost for the short term. But when the adrenaline and dopamine wear off, your body starts craving more caffeine to feel good, which results in you pouring another cup for yourself and locking your body in the “fight or flight” mode for the entire day and night.
Too much is not good - According to the American Heart Association Journal, high doses of caffeine can temporarily raise your heart rate and blood pressure, which may pose danger for people with heart disease. Energy drinks that come loaded with caffeine and sugar in small servings are particularly bad. Regular use of caffeine for a prolonged amount of time can also cause the chemistry of your brain to change, as some researchers suggest. It is believed that to compensate for the blocked adenosine, the brain may make even more receptors. Thus, with the greater amount of receptors, you have to drink even more caffeine to get the same stimulating effects as before.
And this is why when you try to quit coffee, colas, or energy drinks, the sudden excess of unblocked receptors for adenosine to bind leads to tiredness, anxiety, or irritability. Obviously, it makes you crave for it all more.
A little is just fine - Some research also suggests that caffeine may protect against dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. There is also research that supports caffeine consumption to improve erectile dysfunction. Many fitness freaks also trust a jolt of caffeine to pump up more weights at the gym, improve their athletic endurance, and reduce fatigue. Some gym regulars claim that consuming some amount of caffeine, preferably a cup of black coffee, before hitting the gym works as an energy booster.
The Bottom line Your intake decides the impact of caffeine on your overall physical and mental health. It has been seen that consuming caffeine poses no serious health risk if taken within safe amounts. According to Harvard Health Journal, your daily intake of caffeine shouldn’t cross the limit 400 mg per day, which is about four cups of coffee or up to 10 cups of black tea. The journal further adds that this amount is not linked to any long-term effect on blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke risk.
However, if you are a heart patient and already had a heart attack, strictly limit your dosage to about half of the aforementioned amount per day. The source of your caffeine is also of utmost importance. While coffee and tea are good as they also contain antioxidants, soft drinks and energy drinks should strictly be avoided. These often contain very high amounts of caffeine in a single serving and are full of sugar and other unhealthy additives. Children and teens should not be encouraged to consume sodas and energy drinks.
How to know that your caffeine love is turning into an addiction? If you find it hard to function without caffeine or if you develop headaches when you don’t drink caffeine, it may be time to cut the amount of caffeine from your daily diet. Nowadays, decaffeinated coffee and tea with adaptogens are gaining popularity as healthy and sustainable alternatives to caffeine. Caffeine is more of a dependence than an addiction. Enjoy it but don’t let your happiness depend on it.