For many of us, starting the day with caffeine is non-negotiable. The thought of conversing with other people, slipping behind the wheel of our car or starting a working day without at least one cup of coffee or tea is simply unthinkable.
Before consuming too much of this stimulant, however, it’s worth noting the impact that it has on the body. Like all things, caffeine can be a force for good or evil. Moderation is essential.
What Happens When You Consume Caffeine?
When we consume caffeine, the body’s entire nervous system receives a jolt and a boost. The caffeine works its way into the blood and begins to stimulate organs. It increases the heart rate and blood pressure, which makes us feel more active. It can also aid the digestive tract and keep everything moving after a long sleep.
Perhaps the biggest impact of caffeine is in the brain. Caffeine releases a small amount of dopamine. This makes us feel more alert and improves our mood. This dopamine release is why caffeine is considered addictive.
The human brain does not become entirely reliant on caffeine like it does other, more harmful stimulants. The dopamine content is not high enough for that. The body can experience withdrawal symptoms from a lack of caffeine, though. These include headaches, nausea, muscles aches and mood swings.
The impact of caffeine varies from person to person. Some individuals experience an immediate boost, but it can take up to two hours for the body to fully absorb caffeine. Once it has done so, caffeine remains in the system for up to six hours. This could lead to an inability to sleep if caffeine is consumed too late in the day.
Caffeine can also cause overstimulation of the organs. This is why caffeine makes some people anxious and jittery; it makes the human brain run at a mile a minute. In addition, caffeine is a diuretic. Consuming too much, especially in a short space of time, can overstimulate the bladder or bowels.
Should Caffeine be Avoided Altogether?
In small doses, caffeine is healthy for the human body. It’s believed that regular, managed caffeine intake reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. However, that’s not an excuse to consume caffeine all day, every day.
In fact, some people should avoid caffeine altogether. If you are living with any of the following health complaints, keep caffeine out of your diet as much as possible.
- Osteoarthritis. Caffeine prevents the bones from absorbing calcium. This will enhance the symptoms and discomfort of arthritis.
- High Blood Pressure. Caffeine causes a temporary spike in blood pressure. This can be dangerous if it’s already high.
- Heart Irregularities. Caffeine also makes the heart beat faster. Tread carefully if your heart is weak.
- Weak or Unstable Bladder. Caffeine is a diuretic. If you have a weak bladder, caffeine will aggravate this concern.
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Anybody living with anxiety should give caffeine a wide berth. It will only exacerbate the unwelcome symptoms.
Caffeine can also provoke developmental issues in an unborn foetus. Limit caffeine intake to fewer than 200mg a day if you are pregnant. If you are trying to conceive, cut down too. Caffeine has also been linked to limited fertility.
How Much Caffeine is Too Much?
It’s believed that the average healthy adult can imbibe up to 400mg of caffeine without experiencing ill effects. That’s more than you may realise. 400mg of caffeine is roughly equivalent to:
- 4 cups of brewed coffee. The caffeine content of tea is theoretically lower. Be aware, however. The longer a teabag brews in a cup, the more caffeinated the beverage will be.
- 10 cans of pop, such as Coca Cola. Obviously, nobody should drink this many carbonated drinks in a day. The sugar and acid content are an entirely different concern.
- 2 high-caffeine energy drinks, such as Red Bull. The caffeine content of these drinks varies, so check the ingredients if you use them.
However, these impacts will vary from person to person. Like most stimulants, the human body develops a resistance to caffeine over time. One person may become extremely alert and jittery after just one cup of coffee. Somebody else may need two of three espressos to even notice the impact.
Your body will tell if you’re taking in too much caffeine. Common symptoms of excessive caffeine are:
- Headaches and migraines.
- Restlessness and irritability.
- Muscle tremors.
- Elevated heart rate.
- Nausea and stomach upsets.
- Excessive urination.
If you experience any of these side effects, switch to decaf. Your body will thank you for it.
What are Some Alternatives to Caffeine?
Caffeine undoubtedly kickstarts your day, but it is an artificial stimulant. Sometimes, it’s better to look into an alternative boost. The human body can draw energy from a range of sources.
If you’re trying to cut down on your caffeine intake, you have several options.
- Water. Never underestimate the impact of plain water on an empty stomach. Water hydrates your brain, which is just what it needs when you first wake up. This alone will be enough to spark your day. However, you could also add some lemon slices or peppermint leaves for an extra pep in your step. Peppermint tea is believed to energise the body and mind.
- Chicory Root or Barley. You will find coffee alternatives made from these ingredients in most health food shops or major supermarkets. These drinks do not actually contain caffeine. They mimic the taste of coffee, though. This could spark a placebo effect in your brain and help you get on with the day ahead.
- Carob. Many people use carob as a healthier alternative to chocolate, due to its similar taste. Carob also contains pinitol. This is a cyclic polyol that acts in a similar way to insulin. It will balance out your blood sugar and help your body feel energised. A hot chocolate substitute may seem like a strange way to start the day, but it could be very impactful.
Ultimately, caffeine intake is all about moderation and sensible planning. As discussed, a small amount of caffeine can enhance your health. Just remember that caffeine is a drug, and any boost that it provides to your energy levels is temporary. Explore some alternatives to use alongside your morning coffee to keep your body and brain functioning at capacity.