Caffeine 101: The Basics

Caffeine, or trimethylxanthine, is a bitter-tasting powder in its pure form, a stimulant which affects the nervous system much like amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin stimulate the brain. Itís the most widely-used drug in the world; by some estimates, as many as 90% of Americans use caffeine each day. And they use quite a bitóthe average caffeine consumer drinks as many as five cups of coffee a day.

In addition to the ever-present java, a number of common foods, drinks, and medications contain caffeine, from chocolate to sodas and tea to diet pills and cold remedies. Even lipstick may contain a dose of caffeine. The effects of caffeine can vary according to a personís body size; for a child, drinking a can of soda can be equivalent to an adult downing four cups of caffeinated coffee.While many turn to caffeine for a quick pick-me-up, it can actually interfere with your job performance, increasing nervousness, irritability, headaches, depression and insomnia. If you use caffeine to stay awake, you may find that, even though you can keep sleep at bay, your memory may become less efficient. Caffeine can even affect your relationships, making communication more tense and less effective. ]

Dangerous side-effects

Some side-effects from caffeine use can be mere annoyances. Others are downright dangerous. For smokers, caffeine can be especially harmful. Nicotine raises blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular complications. Caffeine can intensify the problem.

Research also indicates that excessive coffee drinking can increase a personís risk of heart attack. Caffeine can also cause irregular heart rhythms. And some researchers believe it can increase a womanís chances of getting cancer. Caffeine has also been linked with central nervous system disorders, Parkinsonís disease, diabetes, and incontinence. The drug has also been known to exacerbate problems such as ulcers, stomach upset, indigestion, and bone loss.

Kicking the Caffeine Habit

There are many ways to wean yourself from caffeine. Perhaps the most effective method is to keep a daily diary of your caffeine intake. Record which caffeinated items you ate and drank and what effect they had on your body. Once you know how much youíve taken in, itís easier to reduce your daily dose of caffeine. Be sure to include how your body reacted to reduced amounts of caffeinated coffee and soft drinks. And donít forget pain-killers and other over-the-counter medicine which contains caffeine.

Reduce your caffeine intake to two-to-four cups a day (less than 200 mg.). The stair-step approach allows you to gradually limit the amount of caffeine you use, rather than quit cold-turkey. This method will also allow you to lessen withdrawal symptoms such as drowsiness, headaches, lethargy, irritability, nausea and vomiting.

You can also lessen your dependence on caffeine by finding other ways to boost your energy level. A natural approach would include eating regular meals with high-protein foods such as low-fat dairy products, chicken, turkey, or fish. Skip high-fat foods and alcohol, which can drain your energy level. If you find it difficult to go it alone, consider the buddy approach. Make a pact with a friend to reduce your caffeine intake together. The extra support can help you cut your caffeine habitóand have fun besides.

Find out how many milligrams of caffeine you consume on average each day.
See our 5 minute video on Caffeine.
Take an introductory course to the DANGERS of caffeine.
Copyright ©2014 Caffeine Awareness Association