What Is Caffeine?
Caffeine occurs naturally in over 60 plants, chief among which are cocoa beans, kola nuts, tea leaves and coffee beans (Coffea canephora and Coffea Arabica plant species). Caffeine is an alkaloid, which means that it contains nitrogen and oxygen in its chemical structure. It is a central nervous system stimulant which works by blocking the effects of adenosine (a hormone which promotes sleep and suppresses arousal), thereby preventing the onset of drowsiness. Upon consuming caffeine, it takes 45 minutes for the body to completely absorb it into the bloodstream, and it has a half-life (time for half of a substance to be processed) of 4 hours. It should be noted that smokers break down caffeine faster than non-smokers, while pregnancy slows down the rate at which it is broken down, especially in the latter stages of pregnancy. The FDA has classified caffeine as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) with a maximum limit of up to 400mg each day without any adverse effects. Other regulatory agencies such as the European Food Safety Authority, Health Canada and the International Food Information Council have set more stringent limits (up to 300mg) and require that it be declared in the ingredient list as well as listing the quantity.
Facts About Caffeine: Interaction With Other Drugs
- Caffeine increases the odds of developing fibrocystic breast disease.
- The presence of a lot of impurities in bad quality coffee can be toxic and can cause headache, sickness, or a general bad feeling.
- Caffeine could reduce fertility in women.
- Caffeine consumption at ages 5 – 7yrs may increase enuresis (bedwetting).
- Caffeine consumption in women worsens menopause symptoms.
- Caffeine inhibits collagen production in the skin (more likely at high doses).
- Other effects are associated with consuming caffeine with medications; orally administering birth control can extend the half-life of caffeine, therefore care should be taken consuming caffeine when on birth control.
- Certain medications and herbal supplements may interact with caffeine, three such medications and supplements include: Ephedrine, Theophylline (Theo-24 and Elixophyllin) and Echinacea.
- Ephedrine, which is used to treat congestion, when taken with caffeine, may increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke or seizure.
- Theophylline is used to open up the bronchial airways. However, if taken with caffeine, the possible side effects of nausea and palpitations may increase due to the fact that this drug also has caffeine-like effects on the body.
- Echinacea, an herbal supplement used to treat colds or other infections, may also enhance the negative effects of caffeine, as it may increase the concentration of caffeine in the blood.
Foods Containing Caffeine
Caffeine is used in the food and pharmaceutical industries for its various benefits ranging from boosting energy to warding off Alzheimer’s. Some common foods which contain caffeine include coffees (80 – 175mg), teas (15 – 95mg), soft drinks (22 – 115mg), energy drinks (50 – 370mg), chocolate drinks (2 – 8mg), caffeinated snack foods (20 – 150mg), ice cream and yoghurt (1 – 125mg), chocolate candy (9 – 600mg), and over-the-counter pills (64 – 300mg). Coffee, energy drinks, and over-the-counter pills have the highest amounts of caffeine per serving while (non-caffeinated) chocolates have the lowest.
How Much Caffeine Is Good For You?
Caffeinated foods and beverages can be consumed by healthy adults with a maximum daily consumption intake of 300 – 400mg (equivalent to approximately five 8-oz cups of coffee or five cans of 250ml energy drink). It is recommended that pregnant women consume not more than 200mg caffeine daily (approximately three 8-oz cans of Red Bull or six 12-oz cans of Coke). The FDA website says that it “has not set a level for children, but the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the consumption of caffeine and other stimulants by children and adolescents. We need to continue to look at what are acceptable levels.” However, for guidance, Health Canada’s site mentions these maximum daily intake levels for children:
- Ages 4-6: 45mg (approximately one 12-oz can of Coke)
- Ages 7-9: 62.5mg (two 12-oz cans of Coke)
- Ages 10-12: 85mg (two-and-a-half 12-oz cans of Coke)
While caffeine is not an essential nutrient, studies have shown that it plays a very integral role in the control of certain diseases or reduction in some symptoms.
Is Caffeine Bad For You?
The answer to this question is actually linked to your genetic makeup and the present state of your health. According to Time, “Due to a genetic variation which affects a particular enzyme, some people break down caffeine at a very slow rate. It’s fairly common and, for these people, even a moderate daily coffee intake can increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.” For people who are generally healthy (who have, for example, no adverse health conditions of the heart, liver, respiratory system, or digestive system), consumption intake of 400mg presents no ill effects. However, for those suffering with one or more of these conditions, even the recommended dose may be intolerable. People with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or other digestive disorders often find relief from completely eliminating caffeine from their diet. Coffee beans contain cafestol and kahweol, which appear to raise LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels, therefore, it is recommended that individuals suffering from high cholesterol choose filtered coffee. It is a well-known fact that caffeine raises blood pressure. For this reason, it may be best for people who have caffeine sensitivity or anxiety disorders to consume less that the recommended caffeine amount or completely avoid it. Caffeine is removed from the body mainly through metabolism in the liver, so liver diseases might have an impact on the rate of caffeine elimination. When suffering from any form of liver disease or taking medications that are metabolized by the liver, it would be wise to consult a dietician or physician on caffeine consumption.
Caffeine and Brain Function
In a study conducted by John Hopkins University, taking caffeine (200mg pill) after studying boosted memory accuracy 24 hours later. Other studies have shown caffeine can aid memory function debilitated by Alzheimer’s. In addition, a moderate intake of caffeine may also protect against Parkinson’s disease. When coffee is consumed (not coffee beverages), the direct effects of caffeine on neuroprotection seem to be reinforced by the effects of antioxidants in the coffee that also protect against memory loss.
Does Caffeine Keep You Awake?
Caffeine increases stamina during exercise and increases alertness. This is due to the antagonizing effect it has on adenosine, which is the chemical that causes drowsiness. Caffeine prevents adenosine from activating the receptor by blocking the location on the receptor where adenosine binds to it. As a result, caffeine temporarily prevents or relieves drowsiness, and thus maintains or restores alertness.
Impact of Caffeine On Your Overall Heath
According to Caffeine Informer, other benefits include the following:
- Men who consume 250 – 375mg of caffeine per day have a much lower risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
- Caffeine-consuming men showed increased semen volume and significantly less sperm DNA fragmentation.
- Caffeine reduces the risk of kidney stones and reduces liver fibrosis in patients with Hepatitis C.
- Caffeine may prevent ringing in the ear (tinnitus) in women.
- Caffeine protects against eyelid spasms and may protect against cataracts.
- Caffeine reduces chronic inflammation and may prevent weight gain.
Negative Impact of Caffeine On The Body
As with many elements of our daily diet, over-consumption may lead to undesirable side effects of which caffeine is no exception. Consumption of caffeine over the recommended dosage (400mg) may result in a wide range of symptoms which include:
- Raised blood pressure
- Anxiety, jitteriness and reduced coordination
- Fourfold increased risk of heart attacks among young adults with hypertension
- Interference with ossification and could lead to greater risk of bone fractures
- Death due to overdose (dose in excess of the recommended amount)
How To Minimize Exposure
In order to minimize caffeine intake, keep track of how much caffeine you are getting from foods and beverages (especially energy drinks) and over-the-counter medications. Some of these can have up to 130mg in one dose so it is best to use caffeine-free pain killers. Also, try to cut back gradually. Drink one less energy drink or a smaller cup of coffee each day; this will help the body adjust to the lower levels of caffeine, therefore reducing the potential for withdrawal symptoms. You can also try drinking decaffeinated coffee, which has drastically reduced levels of caffeine (0.1 to 0.3 percent) due to the processing.
Should You Worry About Caffeine?
In general, reasonable caffeine intake has many positive effects on healthy people. However, if your health is compromised, if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you are a child, care should be taken when consuming caffeine.
Final Thoughts On The World's Most Popular Drug
Each individual is unique, therefore each person should limit their consumption to the amount of caffeine recommended for their age group or classification, unless otherwise instructed by their health care providers. Talk to your doctor if you experience any adverse reactions.
There is no nutritional need to add caffeine to one’s diet, but a moderate intake usually has no adverse effect, so go ahead and enjoy your coffee, soda, and chocolate in moderation.