Kick that Caffeine

Coffee is one those items that most of us drink, and there is nothing like waking up to the refreshing scent of a delicious, freshly brewed cup. The sentiment behind this beverage stirs up a range of emotions, which are both personal and cultural. Caffeine is considered the most commonly used mind-altering drug in the world and we have to ask ourselves ‘why has a substance which places an enormous metabolic burden on your body and offers no nutritional value at all -- no vitamins, no minerals, no enzymes -- become so widely used throughout the world?’ Let’s examine:

A day without a latte, cup of tea, or caffeinated soft drink is unthinkable for many people. The average person in this country has more than seven pounds of coffee per year. Most of this is caffeinated coffee.  Caffeine is found in tea, coffee, chocolate, many soft drinks, pain relievers and other over-the-counter medications. Caffeine is a drug that is naturally produced in the leaves and seeds of many plants. It's also produced artificially and added to certain foods. It is defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system, causing increased alertness.

Many of us are familiar with the apparent serge of energy and alertness we receive from our morning brew; caffeine gives most people a temporary energy boost and elevates mood. Studies show that 100 to 200 mg of caffeine (about 1 to 2 cups of regular coffee) is enough to achieve these results. When caffeine consumption climbs to 250 to 700 mg per day, however, people may experience symptoms and people may have heart palpitations with more than 1,000 mg.

Caffeine is best known as a stimulant, giving you a “wake-up” effect. Once consumed, it is absorbed by your body and carried to your bloodstream. In beverage form, it begins to reach all of your tissues within five minutes. The effects of caffeine peak about one hour after consumption. And while it can improve concentration and relieves stress, it can have some negative side effects. According to the National Institutes of Health, “too much caffeine can make you restless, anxious, jittery, and irritable”. Other symptoms include insomnia, headaches, and dehydration from increased urination.

A moderate dose of caffeine is 200-300 mg a day. Here’s a good gauge to measure your caffeine intake: a cup of coffee has 100-200 mg, a cup of tea has 40-120 mg, a soda has 20-80 mg, and two tablets of pain reliever contain as much as 2 cups of coffee.

If you regularly use more than 350 mg a day you may be physically dependent.  This means that if you don’t have caffeine, you’ll experience withdrawal, which includes the following symptoms: headache, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, and difficulty concentrating- wait?! Aren’t these the exact ‘symptoms’ we are trying to AVOID by consuming caffeine?

So what is the bottom line? While small amounts of caffeine are not a concern for most Canadians, over consumption of caffeine may cause undesirable symptoms. And while consuming less than 300 mg per day is most likely not harmful, Health Canada recommends to consumers that limiting caffeine consumption is a wise precaution.