Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in the world. Most of us can’t imagine going through the day without a cup of coffee in the morning, or perhaps a caffeinated soft drink in the afternoon.
In America, over 90% of adults consume some type of caffeine every day.
While caffeine is generally believed to be fairly benign, it is technically classified as a drug, and while caffeine can provide a number of positive benefits, it is important to understand its effects on the body to avoid overconsumption. After all, it is possible to have too much caffeine, and doing so may have serious health risks.
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What Are the Benefits of Caffeine?
You probably already know that caffeine increases alertness and wakefulness and boosts energy. However, there are other benefits that caffeine provides.
Consuming caffeine in limited amounts can:
- Improve mood
- Improve athletic performance and endurance
- Reduce post-workout soreness
- Increase weight loss
- Increase memory
- Help alleviate depression
- Increase in metabolism
There have also been studies that claim caffeine can provide preventative measures against common diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer. The scientific reasoning behind this correlation is not yet clear, and further research is still being conducted.
How Does Caffeine Work?
Consumption of caffeine leads to a complicated series of chemical reactions within the body. Caffeine inhibits a brain chemical called adenosine.
Adenosine blocks the release of dopamine and adrenalin, so when it is reduced, the body is able to produce more dopamine and adrenalin.
This results in the positive effects that are associated with caffeine like increased energy and metabolism and improved mood.
The effects of caffeine become noticeable about 30-60 minutes after consumption. The effects are noticeable for approximately six hours after consumption and remain in trace amounts for about twelve hours.
Even after the stimulating effects are no longer felt, caffeine in the body can decrease the quality of sleep. This often leads to a tired feeling after waking, causing many people to reach for more caffeine in the morning.
This cycle causes many people to label caffeine as “addictive”, or feel that they can’t stop using it.
Caffeine is most often associated with coffee and tea, but it is found in other foods and beverages as well. Caffeine is found in soft drinks, energy drinks, some sports drinks, and energy and diet pills.
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Is Caffeine Dangerous?
For most people, caffeine is perfectly safe, and even healthy, in limited amounts. However, it can become dangerous in large amounts and with chronic use.
Young children should not consume caffeine. Pregnant women should limit their intake of caffeine, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
Large amounts of caffeine have been linked to anxiety, irritability, insomnia, erratic heartbeat, and headaches. These same symptoms may occur with small amounts of caffeine if it is consumed by someone who is not used to caffeine or is very sensitive to stimulants.
In some rare cases, overconsumption of caffeine has resulted in dementia or psychosis. More information on symptoms and what to do in the event of a caffeine overdose can be found at this site from the National Institutes of Health.
When large amounts of caffeine are consumed on a regular basis over a long period of time, it can lead to a dependency similar to that of narcotics. Stopping or suddenly reducing the caffeine intake will result in withdrawal symptoms.
These withdrawal symptoms may include shaking, sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety, and mood swings.
How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?
The generally accepted safe amount of caffeine is 300mg per day. This is the rough equivalent of three cups of coffee.
Of course, some people who are used to caffeine may be able to tolerate more without experiencing adverse effects. When considering caffeine intake, be sure to consider all sources.
While most people think of caffeine coming from coffee or tea, it can also be found in other foods and supplements. Carefully review the labels on drinks and supplement pills to understand your total daily intake of caffeine.
Are you are consuming more than 300 mg of caffeine a day? If you are feeling anxious, experiencing headaches, and having trouble sleeping, you may be having too much caffeine.
If you think you may be consuming too much caffeine, it is best to gradually decrease your intake rather than cutting out caffeine altogether. Doing so may lead to the withdrawal side effects referenced above.
If you are using caffeine as a crutch for low energy, consider a supplement or vitamin that may help restore energy with fewer side effects.
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