Many law abiding, sober folk who would never consider knowingly ingesting a mind-altering drug, actually drink one every day….caffeine!
Caffeine is so pervasive in our culture and in many other cultures that we often forget it is actually a drug that affects our brain. Caffeine is present in tea, many fizzy drinks, coffee and over the counter prescription medications.
Commonly, most of us consume caffeine by drinking coffee. And most of us drink lots of cups of coffee in a single day.
Is coffee really bad for you?
If you are one of those people who drinks a lot of coffee daily, you probably wonder what all that coffee is doing to you. Is coffee really bad for you, or is drinking coffee just a harmless vice? Can it be possible that coffee is actually good for us?
The research on coffee shows mixed results. Some studies show that drinking coffee increases the rate of heart attacks, while other studies have shown that drinking large amounts of coffee decreases the risk of diabetes.
Nutritional advisers have claimed that coffee increases the ageing process, causes all sorts of unknown damage to our cells and can damage adrenal glands.
There is research that claims that coffee, especially freshly ground and roasted, is full of antioxidants and therefore good for us. Most doctors say that drinking one or two cups of coffee a day is probably not harmful. There are of course others, who say we should avoid caffeine completely.
There is one thing that most researchers and the vast majority of coffee drinkers agree on is that coffee can keep you awake at night and cause insomnia if we drink it late at night, especially, just before you go to bed.
A large proportion of people drink coffee because they want to boost activity of our brain cells (mental acuity), especially when we first wake up.
A lot of people feel that they do not really get going in the morning until they have had their first cup of coffee. We regularly drink coffee throughout the day whenever we feel our energy levels flagging and our brain seems to need more help to think more clearly.
Does caffeine actually improve mental acuity, or is that just a myth? Yes, caffeine does give a temporary boost to brain performance. But the amount of caffeine required to improve performance is not very high at all. Just half a cup of coffee is enough to give your brain the boost to last several hours – interesting huh?
Does drinking more caffeine keep you more alert?
Oddly enough, the more caffeine you consume is not necessarily better. In one sample test conducted when high-level executives were given the equivalent of 15 cups of coffee in a day, they were shown to make decisions faster, but the decisions were not of high quality, simply decisions.
People react differently to caffeine, some people experience greater mental clarity, productivity and alertness after a cup of coffee. Other people become depressed, jittery or anxious when they drink caffeine. Although caffeine will keep most folk awake if taken at night, it simply does not have this effect in absolutely everyone.
It has been found that some older people found coffee or tea too temporarily improve memory and alertness, enough to partially offset the effects of ageing for a relative amount of time.
Most people will find that caffeine is mildly addicting. Some folk can quit using caffeine with absolutely no withdrawal symptoms, but others feel fatigue, headaches and experience cravings for caffeine for days and weeks.
How does coffee effect the brain?
Caffeine works by blocking one of the neurotransmitters, adenosine, which tells the brain cells to calm down. Brain cells that have been affected by caffeine will remain excited and on high alert for several hours.
The biggest and most reported negative effect of caffeine is that it interferes with sleep. For most people, drinking coffee, tea, fizzy drinks or any caffeinated drinks in late in the day or evening can cause insomnia.
Does coffee stop you sleeping?
If personally, you are noticeably affected by caffeine, you may find that the amount and quality of your sleep will be greatly impacted. This is likely to set off a negative cycle where during the next day you feel so tired and so you drink a more coffee or energy drinks, just to try to feel or stay awake.
If this is happening to you, cut back on the amount of coffee you drink each day. If you cut down slowly, you will likely experience fewer withdrawal symptoms. You could plan to substitute tea for some of your cups of coffee each day. Tea has some caffeine, but not as much as coffee so you still have a hot drink but not as big a caffeine kick.
Even better, consider substituting things like exercise for those cups of coffee. If you can’t leave work to exercise, consider getting up from your chair periodically to break the habit.
Do a few stretches, jump up and down a few times (perhaps not in the middle of the office) and walk around a bit . Take a few deep breaths. A small amount of exercise can revitalise your brain without giving you the caffeine addiction effects.
Remember that your brain won’t really benefit from more than one or two cups of coffee in a day.
More Than A Cupful of Coffee Benefits
Most people just can’t live without coffee. These are the people who look forward to their first cup of coffee as soon as they wake up in the morning. They are the regulars of coffee shops day-in and day-out, those who have made coffee a regular part of their daily routine and lifestyle.
The growing number of coffee addicts have prompted hundreds of studies addressing concerns about the effects of coffee on the body and whether or not caffeine causes harm. Some say that it’s good to drink coffee when you have a headache. Others say that it’s bad to drink coffee if you have stomach problems.
Learning about the facts and the myths of coffee drinking will help coffee lovers enjoy their next cup even more.
The general effects of coffee fall into the following categories:
- Stimulant effects. Caffeine makes coffee a well-established stimulant as it stimulates the nervous system, including the nerves controlling intestinal activity, blood pressure and airway size which may keep you alert and awake, yet may also impair sleep, cause jitters and anxiety.
- Heartburn. All types of coffee, even decaf, can stimulate secretion of stomach acid, which may lead to heartburn.
- Diuretic features. Caffeine encourages the kidneys to produce urine to rid the body of excess fluid. However, coffee leads to urination so effectively that it may cause mild dehydration.
Coffee may also have other effects on the body, such as yellowed teeth which are common among regular coffee drinkers. Burn injuries from steaming hot coffee are very common. Some mental health professionals even suggest that regular caffeine users, including coffee drinkers, should be considered dependent, addicted or struggling with substance abuse.
Over the past 50 years, studies have raised concern over the health risks of coffee or caffeine users including an association with stomach problems, pancreatic and bladder cancer, fibrocystic breast disease and gallbladder disease, among other conditions. However, when analysed further, these studies just fall short of implicating even modest coffee consumption as a significant health risk among pregnant women and cardiac patients. A review from April 2007 examined the evidence that coffee consumption might increase the risk of serious medical conditions like stomach cancer or leukaemia. And they found out that the data were considered inconclusive and that additional study was necessary.
A study about coffee intake being associated with an increased pancreatic cancer was discredited and is often used as a model to show how a flawed study can mislead research results. It analysed a number of exposures among patients with pancreatic cancer, including coffee intake. The number of factors being examined made it a fishing expedition according to most research experts. The danger of examining too many factors at once may produce association just by chance results. There is the problem of generating misleading results if a net is cast too wide.
The following are therapeutic effects of caffeine aside from being a stimulant:
- Premature babies or those who have undergone surgery just after birth may be treated with caffeine to stimulate their breathing.
- Some over-the-counter headache or pain relief medication include caffeine, acetaminophen and aspirin. The effectiveness of these agents may be linked, at least in part, to the treatment of caffeine withdrawal, a common cause of headaches.
- Several studies found modest benefits with caffeine in the treatment of asthma as it gives dilating effects on airways. In fact, some recommend that coffee intake be avoided before breathing tests so as not to diminish the breathing abnormalities which the tests aim to detect.
- During the Experimental Biology 2007, an American Society for Nutrition’s annual conference, research experts reviewed evidence that moderate intake of coffee, say 3 to 5 cups per day, might reduce the risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney stones, gallstones, and depression.
That health risks are minimal and rare bring good news to the coffee lovers vast population. Although those who are considered high risk patients should better avoid the stimulant action of caffeine or the heartburn provoked even by decaffeinated coffee.