Caffeine!!!!!!

Delicious and nutritious or a health catastrophe?
Caffeine is found naturally in coffee beans, tea leafs, cocoa beans and kola nuts, among some other 50 plus plants. This means that this stimulant compound is found in coffee drinks, teas, chocolate products, and soda pop. It is also derived from chemicals and added to products, such as energy drinks, and, less obvious things such as pain and cold medications.

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Physiologically, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and it releases adrenaline hormones, norepinephrine and epinephrine. The body’s response to these “flight or fight” or acute stress hormones is a release of glucose (sugar) from storage in the liver and muscles, raising blood sugar. They also act as vasodilators to widen blood vessels specifically to the brain and heart, while narrowing blood vessels to your gut.

The combination of these actions means you have more oxygen and sugar flowing to your skeletal muscles and your appetite decreases. Hence the reputation caffeine has to increase your energy without the presence of food. An additional side affect of this is an increase of heart rate as blood flow changes.

However, once the caffeine wares off, so do these physiological affects. Meaning, blood sugar levels drop, blood flow changes directions and heads to your gut, and heart rate will slow. Headaches, stomach aches, fatigue are among the feelings that may ensue from this. Often leading to more caffeine intake.

It goes without saying, this cycle can be addictive.

Each individual will react to caffeine differently. Some people have a high tolerance and the affects are mild or not at all, while others may be over stimulated from it and the affects may take several hours to subside. Along these same lines, studies and debates over if caffeine is “good” or “bad” for us is majority anecdotal.

The Good:

  • There is no denying that people feel increased alertness, concentration and improved sociability upon consumption of caffeine products. It is consumed by the majority of Americans every day as coffee
  • It is often used by athletes and avid exercisers before a workout or competition for improved performance
  • There is wavering evidence, but potential benefit as research continues, of caffeine helping with cancer prevention, liver disease, type 2 diabetes, depression and dementia, among other chronic diseases.

The Bad:

  • Can cause heart burn due to increasing release of acid in the stomach
  • Can cause gastrointestinal upset
  • Can stain teeth
  • May cause internal inflammation
  • May cause sleep disturbance
  • High consumption linked to excretion of calcium and magnesium from the body in some individuals

Food for thought:
On average, it takes about an hour for caffeine levels to reach their peak in the blood, and another 5-7 hours for the body to rid most of the substance through metabolic processes in the liver.

Best advice:

Pay attention to how your body responds to caffeine and act appropriately.

If you don’t already drink coffee or regular consume caffeinated products, there is no need to start now. If you already enjoy coffee, tea, or chocolate products, check in with how your body feels before, during and after caffeine intake and see if you are lightly or heavily affected.

If ever you feel a “crash” from caffeine and it leaves you more tired, consider backing off for a few days and limiting intake.

If you are someone who is sensitive to caffeine or may be experiencing any of the bad affects mentioned above, be aware of caffeine products and avoid them, or cut them out for a few weeks to see if symptoms are eliminated to determine if caffeine is truly the culprit.

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References:
WebMD, Caffeine Myths and Facts
Revolution Health Radio with Chris Kresser: Is Coffee Good For You? http://chriskresser.com/rhr-is-drinking-coffee-good-for-you