Should you, or shouldn’t you? Is that morning cup of coffee a danger? A benefit? Or no big deal? The truth is, caffeine does have positive attributes that can improve your health, but it also presents some potentially significant risks.
On the plus side, it’s not your imagination that drinking coffee or tea can help kick-start your morning. Caffeine increases alertness, acting in just 15 minutes and lasting as long as two hours. In addition, studies have proven that caffeine boosts metabolism and reduces fatigue and appetite.
Since 1980, however, additional medical research has revealed that caffeine is not necessarily safe. It is a drug, even though it isn’t regulated. Various scientific investigations have shown:
- Caffeine exacerbates fluid retention and pain in women with fibrocystic breasts. For some women, switching to a caffeine-free diet can bring relief.
- If you consume caffeine in large enough amounts, you can be 7 times more susceptible to moderate to severe menstrual symptoms.
- Over-consumption of caffeine can cause miscarriage.
- Caffeine can cause insomnia.
Some people think caffeine is an antidote to alcohol, but the reality is you’re still intoxicated, just wide awake.
A Variety of Foods Contain Caffeine
The US Food & Drug Administration does not require caffeine labeling so you can’t easily check to see whether food products contain the drug, or how much. In light of that, it’s up to you to know where caffeine lurks - and it’s not just in your cup of coffee or tea.
You may be surprised to learn that all these products contain caffeine, either naturally or by design, some in hefty amounts:
- Decaffeinated coffee and tea – caffeine is lower, but it’s not zero.
- Soda – it doesn’t have to be “brown,” Mountain Dew, orange drinks and others can also be heavily caffeinated.
- Chocolate – the darker it is, the more caffeine it contains.
- Coffee or chocolate ice cream.
- Alcoholic or non-alcoholic energy drinks, including water.
- Jolt brand mints and gum breath fresheners.
- “Energized” or “perked up” snacks from beef jerky to sunflower seeds.
- Pain relievers – a little caffeine relieves headache, but more than the recommended dose will make your headache worse.
- Weight-loss pills.
Want to Kick the Caffeine Habit?
Studies continue to examine the pros and cons of caffeine, but avoiding it altogether is a sure way to be safe. If you have been an ardent consumer of caffeine, though, be aware that you may experience withdrawal symptoms. That’s because caffeine is physiologically addictive. If you quit “cold turkey,” you may feel jittery, drowsy, irritable, less than alert and you may develop a headache.
Headache from caffeine withdrawal may not occur until several hours or even a couple of weeks after you stop ingesting the drug. Headaches can linger for days.
If you gradually reduce your use of foods, beverages or medications that contain caffeine over a month, you may not suffer any of these withdrawal symptoms. If your goal is to cut back rather than quitting altogether, understanding the effects caffeine can have on your body will help you make informed decisions to protect your health.