Say it ain’t Joe; caffeine has perks, but brews risks

Kelly Gillit / THE FLARE
Kelly Gillit / THE FLARE

Three scoops of sugar and an extra shot of espresso, please. Or maybe you’re more of a soda or energy drink type of person.

Either way, you make up part of the 90 percent of Americans who consume caffeine daily.

It is in our tea, coffee, chocolate, soda, energy drinks, diet pills, over-the-counter drugs and even pain medication.

Caffeine is a naturally occurring psychoactive stimulant produced by more than 60 plants worldwide. It is considered a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system, causing temporarily increased mental processes.

It works in the same part of the brain as cocaine, amphetamines and heroin.

Oddly enough, because it contains antioxidants, it also protects our cells from free-radical damage which gives caffeine an edge when it comes to enhancing our daily lives and protecting our health.

In a world that lives at a fast pace, everyone needs a pick-me-up every now and again, but for some it is an all-day everyday kind of thing.

But what exactly are you drinking each time you reach for another quick burst of energy?

Some studies show caffeine increases dopamine levels, which makes you feel happier and blocks adenosine receptors, which stops you from being drowsy.

Caffeine can increase your ability to learn by increasing your comprehension, memory, reflexes, mental clarity and mental alertness. It can also improve your endurance levels by reducing glucose burning and increasing fat burning, thus explaining its use in diet and exercise pills.

On a larger scale, caffeine can actually reduce risks of several diseases such as, Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 Diabetes, Alzheimer’s and even liver cancer.

Of course all of these findings were found to be true when the amount of caffeine intake was kept within the consumption levels of “moderate.”

On the negative side, caffeine in large amounts can cause anxiety, nervousness, irritability, headaches, irregular heartbeat and tremors, among other things.

Several studies note that too much caffeine can also lower calcium levels in the body which, over time, can lead to bone loss.

This supplement can also aggravate heart conditions and interact with some medications. In some extreme cases, death occurred when the lethal dose of caffeine (150-200 mg/kg of body weight) was met or exceeded. That would be equivalent to 100 cups of coffee in a four-hour period.

With most everything, moderation is key.

Experts consider 200-300 mg of caffeine per day to be the “moderate” amount for most adults, even though it only takes 100 mg per day to become dependent.

This means that if someone who consumed at least 100 mg of caffeine a day suddenly quit, he would experience withdrawals.

Though most experts agree that caffeine withdrawal is not extremely dangerous, withdrawal can be very unpleasant. Symptoms include – but are not limited to – tiredness, irritability and headaches.

The best advice for all of you caffeine junkies: cut back, now, but do so slowly.  If you don’t see yourself eliminating caffeine from your life completely, educate yourself.

Know the recommended amount per day for someone of your age, weight and height and keep within those parameters.

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