Caffeine is the most widely used food type that can be said to have a drug-like effect on our bodies. It’s a worldwide problem. Every morning it’s the first thing millions of folk reach for when they wake up and research suggests that in the UK and US, 90% of us have eaten or drank the equivalent of 2-3 cups of caffeinated coffee every day.
In America, 25% of the population are considered caffeine addicts. It’s believed 80% of people have 2-4 cups every day, whilst to be considered a caffeine addict it’s generally believed you need to have the equivalent of 5 cups or more in a single day.
Caffeine is now a key ingredient in many non-prescription medications from diet pills to energy-boosters and even allergy remedies.
With roots back to ancient China there are mentions of the effects of it as far back as 2700 BC. It’s a member of the compound group known as xanthenes. This group are all mild stimulants which effect the central nervous system. As well as appearing in drinks, food and medication, it is also regularly used as a flavouring agent. You’ll find hidden sources of caffeine in baked foods, desserts and pudding. Even if you’re actively avoiding caffeine chances are it’ll sneak into your diet somehow.
The way your body reacts to caffeine is affected by a number of factors:
When caffeine enters your body it has these immediate reactions:
Caffeine can also cause:
These symptoms are usually in the extreme and due to excessive intake but if you don’t know your tolerance they are always a risk.
Caffeine for Sport
Caffeine releases fatty acids into the blood stream and this has lead to sports specialists, particularly those working in the field of endurance, to believe it can be used as a tool for improving performance. Caffeine helps with the conservation of glycogen according to a leading study but the majority of sports physiologists believe caffeine’s effect on performance is actually more psychological than anything else.
There are variable results when looking at the impact of caffeine on our health. It has been praised regularly as an alternative to headache medications and has also been said to decrease the wheezing in asthma sufferers as it helps to open the bronchial passages. It has also been shown as helpful in decreasing the risk of Parkinson’s disease and even gallstones.
The most common benefit of caffeine is of course the immediate lift it provides people with. Within fifteen minutes of a cup of coffee you’re provided with a wakefulness that can last for up to two hours. It is proven to positively influence alertness, decrease fatigue, suppress appetite (in the short term) and even increase metabolism.
The Downside of Caffeine
There is of course a well-documented downside to caffeine consumption. Some of these points you’ll probably have heard of whilst others are newer discoveries. Medical professionals believe caffeine aggravates fibrocystic conditions and fluid retention. Removing caffeine from the diet has shown to bring extraordinary relief from fibrocystic disease although there have been other studies where no effect has been found.
Women who drink a large amount of caffeinated drinks are up to seven times more likely to be living with moderate to severe pre-menstrual symptoms than those who have a 100% caffeine free diet. Too much caffeine can also cause miscarriage in extreme cases.
The most common syndrome which develops from caffeine intake is sleeplessness, which can develop seriously into insomnia. Caffeine hasn’t been proven to be as physiologically addictive as other known addictive chemicals such as opium or cocaine but caffeine withdrawal can be hard. It can trigger headaches, tremors, further sleeplessness, reduced alertness and irritability. Just like other ‘drugs’ your body will adapt to caffeine and therefore you’ll begin to need more to get the same effects.
Some medical professionals genuinely believe that if caffeine was discovered today it wouldn’t be added legally into the human diet. Studies and experts disagree all the time with its dangerousness but the general line is – use it in moderation if you have to at all.
If you want to remove caffeine from your diet then it’s important to do it slowly and not remove it all in one go, especially if you drink or eat it regularly. Slowly lowering your intake is the best way to do it and remember, there’s nothing wrong with your morning coffee or the cup of tea you have after work as long as it’s incorporated into a healthy diet.
by Kath Webb
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by Kath Webb
by Kath Webb
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