What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a widely used drug that has been around for centuries. It is a naturally occurring substance in cocoa beans, kola nuts and tea leaves which are used to make coffee, tea, cola drinks and chocolate. It is an additive in many soft drinks and nonprescription medications.
Coffee provides the primary source of caffeine for most Americans. Americans consume half of the world's coffee, or more than one thousand cups per person per year. In small to moderate amounts (50-300 mg) caffeine acts as a mild stimulant by increasing the heart rate and blood pressure. However, caffeine is a double-edged sword in that it provides an initial boost of energy, but if not continued throughout the day, it also provides the fatigue that comes from the withdrawl.
People who take in excessive caffeine and those individuals who are hypersensitive to caffeine may experience anxiety, trembling, insomnia, headaches, stomach irritations, diarrhea and/or irregular heartbeats.
Many studies have tried to link caffeine to increased risks of cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease and fibrocystic breast disease. However, most of these claims are unfounded. It is true that large amounts of caffeine can aggravate fibrocystic breast disease - but not cause it. Fibrocystic breast disease is a condition with benign fibrous lumps in the breast.
Caffeine has been known to raise blood pressure. Theoretically this could raise the risk of stroke and heart attack, especially if high blood pressure is already a problem. However, experts agree that this increase is temporary and is not a factor in people who regularly consume caffeine. Because caffeine sensitivity varies greatly among people, people with hypertension should discuss caffeine consumption with their doctor.
Coffee is not linked to cardiac arrest, nor does caffeine raise serum cholesterol. It is actually substances called terpenes, which are found in coffee, that may have a cholesterol elevating effect. Using a gold filter or paper filter will help trap these substances.
Recent research has shown that any bone loss effects attributable to caffeine can be neutralized by milk or calcium from other sources. So, having low-fat milk in your filtered coffee might be more helpful than harmful.
No reputable studies have found any association between coffee and rheumatoid arthritis.
Caffeine can aggravate or trigger migraine headaches and might also be associated with chronic back pain. If you suffer from either one, try gradually eliminating caffeine to see if it helps. If you stop caffeine intake too quickly, it can result in a very bad headache.
Caffeine and Food
Caffeine can also be used to mask hunger and fatigue due to poor eating or sleeping habits. It is not unusual for caffeine to be used to provide extra energy when lacking sleep or food. Temporarily, this is normal, and certainly provides relief. However, use of caffeine to replace food and/or sleep on an on-going basis is not appropriate and can be detrimental. Many studies have shown the negative impact of sleep deprivation on judgment, acuity and physical well-being. Continually using caffeine as a means to address hunger and avoid food can be an early sign of disordered eating.
Moderation is Best
A moderate amount of caffeine per day, approximately 300 milligrams, is relatively harmless for most people. (Check the chart below to see how your intake rates).
INSERT CHART CAFFEINE CONTENT OF BEVERAGES (http://www.studentaffairs.duke.edu/studenthealth/resources/caffeine)
Who should avoid or severely limit Caffeine?
- People with ulcers or who are prone to stomach stress
- People who are hypersensitive to caffeine
- Pregnant and nursing mothers
How can I reduce the caffeine in my diet?
- Drink decaffeinated coffee or mix it half and half with regular coffee.
- Drink decaffeinated tea or caffeine free herbal teas.
- Brew tea for shorter amounts of time.
- Read soft drink labels. Many citrus flavored sodas have more caffeine than colas.
- Read medicine labels. One dose of over-the-counter medications can contain the equivalent of one to two cups of coffee.
- Remember that tea and coffee contain substances that significantly reduce iron absorption if the beverage is drunk with the meal or up to one hour after the meal.