Caffeine: Friend or Foe?

Caffeine; a devil in disguise?  A panacea for low energy?  More than 80% of American adults consume caffeine regularly.  With the explosion of coffee houses in the last 20 years, and the equaled popularity of energy drinks and shots that deliver a boost through multiple portions of caffeine, caffeine is readily available.  Combine that with the statistics that in a national survey, 30% of those surveyed reported averaging six hours or less of sleep per night.  Could they be related?

Caffeine works primarily by temporarily binding to adenosine receptors in the brain.  Adenosine is a natural sedative that is produced in the brain.  By hoodwinking those receptors, it masks that feeling of drowsiness.  The danger lies in the pattern of you regularly integrating caffeine into your process.  Regular caffeine users build up a tolerance to caffeine.  “As tolerance develops, the brain makes more receptors for adenosine to occupy,” says Timothy Roehrs of the Sleep Disorder and Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital.  “You will need more caffeine to block the new added receptors” says Roehrs. (Nutrition Action Health letter; Dec. 2012)

If you don’t use caffeine regularly, then caffeine will significantly improve your mental stimulation and alertness.

Caffeine is also acclaimed for improving physical performance in endurance exercises because caffeine prompts the body to burn more fat versus carbohydrates in our muscle, which produces energy. According to Oxygen Magazine, if you’re going to use caffeine as a training supplement, it should be used for intense exercise activity.  They state it could give you an edge, but if you’re doing lower-intensity work, don’t subject your system to the buzz.

People with headaches, even migraines, often find relief from pain when given caffeine because when you have a headache, the vessels in your brain dilate.  That is why over the counter pain medications such as Excedrin and Anacin include caffeine in their ingredients.

There are many negatives to the use of caffeine.  They should not be given to children, including soda with caffeine.  Over-stimulations from caffeine can cause irritability, sleepiness and irrational behavior.  Women who are pregnant should avoid the use of caffeine during gestation and breast feeding.  If you go off caffeine abruptly after prolonged use, you may experience headaches and anxiety, but over time, that will subside. 

Evaluate your health risks and concerns for you and your family and make an informed decision.

A few top caffeine offenders:

  • Dunkin Donuts coffee with turbo shot (large)                                        436mg
  • Starbucks coffee (venti)                                                                              415 mg
  • Panera frozen mocha (16.5 oz.)                                                                267mg
  • Starbucks Tazo Awake brewed tea (grande)                                           135mg
  • Pepsi Max                                                                                                        69mg
  • Mountain Dew (diet or regular)                                                                  54mg
  • Diet Coke                                                                                                          47mg
  • Pepsi                                                                                                                 38mg
  • 5-Hour Energy Shot                                                                                     208mg
  • Monster Energy                                                                                           160mg
  • Ocean-Spray High Energy                                                                             50 mg
  • Cold Stone Creamery Mocha ice cream                                                     52mg
  • Starbucks ice cream                                                                                      45mg
  • Zantrex-3 weight loss supplement (2 capsules)                                    300mg
  • NoDoz                                                                                                             200mg
  • Midol Complete                                                                                            120mg

Caffeine is a tricky substance to manage.  Too much, and you have a racing heart rate and the jitters.  Just enough and it can give you an edge with competitive exercise.  Whatever choice you make, get the information you need to make a healthy decision.

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