Caffeine – The Covert Socially Accepted Killer

caffeine

Caffeine and nicotine are two legal and socially domesticated drugs only because they are less toxic when taken in standard quantities. The negative health effects of nicotine and its addictiveness are common knowledge. So why are we so reluctant to show caffeine in the same dim light?

caffeine

Caffeine and Nicotine

Caffeine is present in many foods and drugs — in coffee, tea, energy and soft drinks, candy bars, and over-the-counter cold remedies and analgesics. It is legal in all 50 states and consumed by approximately 80% of the world’s population.

While starting each day with coffee is a socially accepted practice (“but coffee first”) just why is a caffeine addiction socially acceptable when virtually all other addictions are not? Can you imagine someone in a t-shirt that says “but first cocaine”? You would think they are a nut. But someone wearing a shirt proudly claiming to be addicted to coffee is okay. Normal even. 

Smokers that want to quit their addiction have treatment programs and therapeutic drugs available that are often covered by insurance. Warning labels are on every pack of cigarettes. Smoking is now a recognized cause of cancer, lung disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke. Nicotine dependence causes more death and disability than all other drug disorders combined (Ogawa & Ueki, 2007, p. 267). Where are the warnings labels about caffeine? 

There are plenty of studies that detail the anxiety, blood pressure and sleep issues that result from too much caffeine. But no one seems to care. 

Current Research on the Effects of Caffeine

A study (Rogers, Heatherly, & Mullings, 2006) on the long-term effects of caffeine revealed caffeine intake was positively associated with higher levels of depressed mood, anxiety, and stress. Other studies which support this work revealed that caffeine doesn’t cause anxiety but it can make it worse.

Actually there is no benefit to regular caffeine consumption, beyond making sure the coffee companies have a regular and consistent revenue stream. If you are not concerned with making coffee companies rich, you should be concerned that the caffeine you are consuming doesn’t[ really work when you are addicted. When you are addicted to caffeine you are not getting the full stimulation of the drug anymore. Other research (Rogers, 2007) also detailed that you don’t benefit from regular coffee consumption because overnight you will go through caffeine withdrawal which lowers mood and alertness and performance degrades, and while consumption of more caffeine reverses these effects, it does not boost functioning to above normal levels. Caffeine increases anxiety, especially in susceptible individuals. That’s why you will wake up feeling groggy and irritable until your first cup of coffee.

There is even some research that explored the relationship between coffee and the risk of heart attack that concluded caffeine also affects risk of coronary heart disease (Cornelis & El-Sohemy, 2007). Another study looked at a diet high in caffeine and found it increases calcium excretion in the urine, a contributor to osteoporosis (Wrotny, 2005). Recent studies have shown that a diet high in caffeine, low in antioxidants and high in red meat may contribute to an increased risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis (Oliver & Silman, 2006).

Have we heard about any of these studies? No. All the press tells us is that coffee is good for us. Feel great about your cup and coffee and be sure to come back tomorrow for another cup. Do you feel at all manipulated right now?

Effects of Caffeine

There was a study in England that found that when students were no allowed to purchase caffeine beverages on campus, the number of visits to the principal dropped. While not a scientific study, it shows in the real world how the link between caffeine and irritability and anxiety plays out.

The medical community does not acknowledge caffeine addiction. Instead itis classified as caffeine dependence. While not meeting the clinical definition for addiction, caffeine withdrawal has never been debated.

Caffeine withdrawal symptoms can last from 2 weeks to several months. With longer symptoms reported most in people who try to stop caffeine “cold turkey”. It appears the swift secession of caffeine triggers long haul symptoms that will break the willpower of most people. The failure rate when trying to modify behavior is almost 90%. That’s 9 out of 10 people just throwing up their hands and saying, “forget it, I’ll just accept being dependent on a daily dose of caffeine.”

Caffeine does not even give us energy. Caffeine triggers adrenaline production which makes the heartbeat abnormally fast, constricts the cerebral blood vessels, delays the onset of sleep, and reduces the total sleeping time. But that’ not energy. You are not gaining anything. If anything you are probably creating a state of negative energy since you will probably have disrupted sleep from the excess caffeine consumption.

Further caffeine can also trigger gastrointestinal problems.

Pregnant women are also cautioned to avoid Caffeine because it can cross the placenta. It also is one of the few substances that can also cross the blood brain barrier. It also interacts with neurotransmitters, including dopamine (Garrett & Griffiths, 1997).

Caffeine has been proven to increase blood pressure. Another study concluded a link between blood pressure in middle age increases risk of cognitive impairment later in life (Stewart, 1999).

Excessive caffeine intake overworks the glandular system and can quickly deplete the body of vitamins B, C, magnesium, and several micronutrients, according to nutritional psychologist Marc David MA (David, 2005).

The health risks from consuming large quantities and from the long-term use of caffeine are serious and far reaching. And yet, there are no warning labels on products containing caffeine. In fact, manufacturers are not even required to disclose how much caffeine is in their products!

Caffeine Causes Stress and Weight Gain

Caffeine can even suppress the immune system. Caffeine increases the levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine and coritsol (stress hormones) which are responsible for high blood pressure and increased heart rate. Under the influence of these hormones, oxygen to the brain and extremities is reduced and the immune system is suppressed.

Research shows a relationship between habitual caffeine use and excessive levels of the stress hormones. This is not surprising since caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline not energy. 

Caffeine also acts on the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal glands and causes hypoglycemia. This causes decreased circulation to the brain, immediate and continual constriction of blood vessels throughout the body and a pervasive feeling of low blood sugar. The feelings of low blood sugar cause an increase in appetite and food cravings and further interfere with the maintaining a proper body weight.

Caffeine Causes Stress and Weight Gain

While the demand for stimulants to allow us to do more and perform better may drive caffeine consumption, the science tells us overuse of caffeine is a not worth it. The risks are high for a compound that is not even delivering results because overuse ironically makes it stop working for us. The only way to make caffeine fulfill its promise to use it sparingly in a way that does not overstimulate and cause harm.

Cornelis, M. C., & El-Sohemy, A. (2007, February). Coffee, caffeine, and coronary heart disease. Curr Opin Lipidol, 18(1), 13-9.

Crowe, M. J., Leicht, A. S., & Spinks, W. L. (2006). Physiological and cognitive responses to caffeine during repeated, high-intensity exercise. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 16, 528-544.

David, M. (2005). The slowdown diet: Eating for pleasure, energy, and weight loss (1st ed.). : Healing Arts Press.

Garrett, B. E., & Griffiths, R. R. (1997). The role of dopamine in the behavioral effects of caffeine in animals and humans. Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav., 57, pp. 553-541.

Ogawa, N., & Ueki, H. (2007). Clinical importance of caffeine dependence and abuse. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 61, 263-268.

Oliver, J. E., & Silman, A. J. (2006, May). Risk factors for the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatoid Arthritis, 35(3), pp. 169-174.

Rogers, P. J. (2007). Caffeine, mood and mental performance in everyday life. British Nutrition Foundation, Nutrition bulletin 32(32 (suppl 1)), 84-89.

Rogers, P. J., Heatherly, S. V., & Mullings, E. L. (2006). Licit drug use and depression, anxiety, and stress. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 20((suppl.) A27), .

Stewart, R. (1999). Hypertension and cognitive decline. British Journal of Psychiatry, 174, pp. 286-7.

Wrotny, C. (2005). Osteoporosis: What women want to know. MEDSURG Nursing, 14(6), pp. 405-415.

Reducing Caffeine Can Be Easy

Cut back on caffeine without caffeine withdrawal or brain fog. 

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