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Is Caffeine Bad for You? What You Need to Know

A man drinking coffee while reading the newspaper.

Is Caffeine Bad for You? What You Need to Know

Do you start your day with a hot cup of coffee, tea, or even an energy drink? You’re definitely not alone— more than 80 percent of adults consume caffeine regularly. In fact, you may be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t rely on caffeine to function throughout the day.

But as common as caffeine use is, is caffeine bad for you?

The answer may surprise you. But before we dive into that, let’s take a look at what caffeine is, and what exactly caffeine consumption does to your body.

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine produces a mild stimulant effect on the central nervous system resulting in the “boost of energy” many feel when they consume caffeine. Caffeine is naturally occurring in many plants, including:

  • Tea leaves
  • Coffee beans
  • Cacao— which is used to make chocolate
  • Kola nuts— which are used to flavor soft drinks like soda

Synthetic caffeine also exists— it’s often used in over-the-counter medicines to boost alertness. It can also be found in food and beverages that claim to boost your energy. This added caffeine can be found in anything from energy drinks to chewing gum.

Did you know that caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world? It’s true! Basically, a psychoactive substance is something that affects how your brain works and causes a change in mood, behavior, awareness, and feelings. 

While caffeine may not have as pronounced an effect as other psychoactive substances— such as alcohol, marijuana, or opiates— it is still a mind-altering substance nonetheless. [1]

It can also have a number of effects on your body— even some you may not expect.

The Effects of Caffeine on the Body

Caffeine isn’t just a stimulant that helps you get through the day. It can have multiple effects on your body, such as:

  • Increased urination— caffeine is a diuretic, which means it helps your body get rid of extra water and salt by causing you to urinate more
  • Increases the release of stomach acid, which can contribute to heartburn
  • Increases your heart rate and blood pressure
  • May interfere with how your body absorbs calcium

Caffeine can also trigger your sympathetic nervous system— otherwise known as your fight-or-flight response. Your fight-or-flight response normally activates to help you confront or escape from potentially dangerous situations— such as a lion chasing you.

But with the help of caffeine, you may put your body in fight-or-flight every day.

Of course, your body doesn’t respond in a literal fight-or-flight way. Instead, other physiological things may happen.

For example, sugar and fat may get dumped unused into the bloodstream. Sugar can create more stress, fat can clog your arteries, and your digestive system may slow or shut down.

These aren’t the only potential downsides to caffeine consumption either.

Is Caffeine Bad for You?

Yes and no. While caffeine consumption is generally considered safe in moderation, it can potentially cause some serious health problems.

Most people drink caffeine for energy— you probably do too! But caffeine doesn’t give you energy as much as it gives you stress. This is because caffeine stimulates your nervous system and adrenal glands. This type of unhealthy stress may contribute to or exacerbate disorders such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Ulcers
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Headaches
  • Hypoglycemia— low blood sugar
  • Asthma
  • Herpes
  • Hypertension— high blood pressure
  • Heart disease

While caffeine is typically used to increase wakefulness and alertness, solid research, however, illustrates as little as 100 milligrams of caffeine— one cup of coffee or two cups of cola— can cause a significant decrease in recall and reasoning!

Another unexpected effect of caffeine is malnutrition. In fact, malnutrition is one of the most well-defined effects of habitual caffeine intake. A single cup of coffee can reduce iron absorption from a meal by as much as 75 percent. Like I said above, caffeine also interferes with how your body absorbs calcium. It can also deplete your body’s stores of vital minerals such as thiamin, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc.

Is Caffeine Addictive?

Most adults depend on at least one caffeinated drink each day. While quitting caffeine cold turkey can cause withdrawal symptoms, caffeine isn’t addictive in the way that other psychoactive drugs are. Because of this, public health experts don’t consider caffeine addiction to be a real addiction.

However, caffeine dependence is a real issue, and can lead to withdrawal symptoms if you reduce or stop your intake.

Some symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include:

  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Headache

How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

If you accidentally overdo it on the caffeine, you’ll probably feel some jitters or a headache afterward. It may not seem like a lot but remember— caffeine is technically a drug, and it can be lethal in excess.

How much caffeine is too much can depend on a few factors— most notably your weight. As a whole though, consuming more than 150-200 mg of caffeine per kilogram of your body weight is considered a lethal dose.

Health authorities recommend that adults consume no more than 200 mg of caffeine each day— that’s the equivalent of:

  • Two cups of tea
  • One mug of filtered coffee
  • Two mugs of instant coffee
  • Five cans of soda
  • Two energy drinks

Consuming a moderate amount of caffeine likely won’t cause any issues, but too much caffeine can cause some unpleasant side effects. Some of these include:

  • Fast heart rate
  • Shakiness or restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Dehydration
  • Headache

To see what your daily safe maximum is for your favorite caffeinated beverage, check out this calculator from Caffeine Informer.

Caffeine During Pregnancy

It’s especially important to be mindful of caffeine intake during pregnancy. Any caffeine an expectant mother consumes can be given to her baby through the placenta. The baby’s body is also unable to metabolize caffeine like the mother’s body can, and this can alter their normal movement patterns later in the pregnancy. Caffeine can alter sleep patterns for both mother and child. [2]

Because of this, avoiding caffeine during pregnancy is considered the safest course of action.

In fact, the best way for anyone to avoid any of the negative effects caffeine can have on their body is to avoid it entirely. But for most, that’s not a choice they are willing to make. 

But don’t worry— it is possible to function and feel energized without caffeine.

How to Function Without Caffeine: 5 Easy Tips

Even for those who have a moderate caffeine intake, it can be hard to put down that caffeinated beverage out of fear of an energy crash. Cleansing your body of caffeine is not easy in the beginning, but keep at it! You’ll feel healthier and more energized in no time, especially if you try these 5 easy tips.

  • Don’t go cold turkey. It may be tempting to give up caffeine full-stop, but that will cause those nasty withdrawal symptoms, which can tempt you into consuming more caffeine. Instead, try gradually reducing your caffeine intake to make the transition easier. Before you know it, you won’t need caffeine at all!
  • Switch to decaf. If you enjoy drinking coffee more for the flavor and less for the caffeine, decaffeinated coffee has all the flavor of caffeinated coffee but without the stimulant effect. If you’re a tea drinker or a soda drinker, there are caffeine-free alternatives for you too!
  • Try Alkadrenergy®. Our Alkadrenergy® tablets can help you boost your energy, sharpen your focus, and brighten your mood— all without caffeine. Our unique formula uses powerful superfoods and adaptogens to alkalize your body and support your overall health.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Healthy eating is the best way to counteract the potential malnutrition caused by caffeine. Make sure you get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein in your diet to give your body the energy it needs to function without an extra pick-me-up.
  • Get enough sleep. Odds are, if you’re reaching for a caffeinated drink first thing in the morning, you probably didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Make sure that you get 7-9 hours of quality rest each night so that you don’t need that cup of joe in the morning.

Still Relying on Caffeine? Wake Up and Smell the Decaf Coffee!

Caffeine usage is extremely common— most adults can’t get through the day without it! But for anyone who’s ever wondered “is caffeine bad for you,” consider reducing how much you consume— or even eliminating it from your diet entirely.

It may not be easy, but you’ll definitely feel healthier and more energized if you do!

Want to learn more about how the Morter HealthSystem can help not just you, but your whole family— including your pets— achieve your B.E.S.T possible health? Let us know— we’d love to hear from you!

Citations

1. Daly, J W, et al. “Is Caffeine Addictive? the Most Widely Used Psychoactive Substance in the World Affects Same Parts of the Brain as Cocaine.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, Lakartidningen, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9889511/.

2. “Caffeine during Pregnancy.” American Pregnancy Association, 9 Dec. 2021, americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/caffeine-intake-during-pregnancy/.

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