Here I sit at my computer at noon and my friend the coffee mug rests on a mouse pad waiting to be sipped as the day progresses. People have many questions about the caffeine in coffee. Can it change metabolism so that weight loss becomes easier? Are the highs of caffeine worth the lows? Can caffeine give your workout more spunk? Can afternoon caffeine help get you through the long afternoon until it’s time to head home? Lets look at the answers.
Caffeine is a naturally occurring compound found in more than 60 different leaves, seeds, and plants including the coffee bean, kola nut, cacao seed, and tea leaves. Today, it can be found in a variety of beverages, products made with chocolate, and some over-the-counter medications. Preparation methods and variations in the plant source affect the caffeine levels of various products.
The effects of caffeine on the body include heart and central nervous system stimulation and muscle relaxation. Caffeine also acts as a diuretic and increases the secretion of gastric acid in the stomach.
Like other food additives, caffeine is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration under the Food Additive Amendment of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Since 1957, caffeine has been “generally regarded as safe” by the FDA. In the 1980s, several studies linked caffeine to certain health hazards, calling for continued research. As a result, caffeine is now the most extensively studied food ingredient in our food supply.
Caffeine has been used in over-the-counter weight control products as an appetite suppressant for many years. However, the efficacy of its use for this reason is questionable. Individuals vary in their response to caffeine, based on gender and body composition. The presence of excess body fat and/or use of tobacco may also affect the metabolism of caffeine.
It has, however, been studied extensively in combination with other drugs for use in weight control. Caffeine combined with ephedrine, which are amphetamine-like compounds, have shown positive effects on weight loss, but one should know that this compound affects the heart and nervous system. Caffeine and other stimulants enhance the effects of ephedrine, and the FDA, after investigation, suggests a limit on the amount of ephedrine and proper package labeling and warning information.
Without doubt, the stimulation effect of caffeine is the primary reason for its popularity. Feelings of alertness, quickened reaction time, improved memory. and enhanced mood are its selling points. Some people simply like the taste of caffeinated products over those without it. However, the major drawback to caffeine use is its addictive potential.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins studied caffeine and found that people can become clinically dependent on caffeine in a manner similar to substances that cause dependence, such as prescription pain-killers, tobacco, and alcohol. The researchers used the term “caffeine dependence syndrome” to describe the addictiveness of habitual caffeine intake.
Low doses of caffeine generally produce effects including increase alertness, increased energy, and an improved sense of well-being. A low dose is considered an intake of less than 200 mg per day (about 2 cups of brewed coffee). Moderate consumption is also acceptable and has few risks. It is defined as 100-300 mg a day (about 3 cups brewed coffee).
However, habitual use, even in small doses, can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms. High caffeine consumption is considered to be more than 300 mg a day (more than 3 cups brewed coffee). These doses can lead to anxiety, irritability, disturbed sleep patterns, tremors, and nervousness.
Caffeine use is discouraged for people with certain health conditions. For example, people with gastric ulcer disease are discouraged from consuming caffeinated products because they stimulate gastric secretions that may lead to ulcer formation.
Caffeine is not recommended for persons with heart conditions ( e.g. congestive heart failure and heart attacks) because, as a stimulant, caffeine can increase the heart rate and lead to abnormal heart rhythm. In addition, caffeine can interact negatively with certain medications, such as lithium. Caffeine can also alter the body’s metabolism of some nutriments including calcium and iron. Doctors advise woman to avoid caffeine during pregnancy and lactation.
Essentially, caffeine enters the bloodstream and crosses the placenta, reaching the fetus. This is of concern because the fetus has limited ability to metabolize caffeine. It also stays in the bloodstream during pregnancy, particularly during the second and third trimesters. Some animal studies show a significant risk of birth defects caused by caffeine consumption during pregnancy.
Other studies show a correlation between caffeine consumption and the risk of miscarriage and low-birth-weight infants. Some physicians also warn against caffeine while trying to become pregnant. Biologically, caffeine metabolism may vary during the menstrual cycle and may affect the ability to conceive.
When trying to cut back on caffeine, a gradual approach often works best and may well reduce the likelihood of withdrawal symptoms. For example, if you are currently drinking 5 cups of coffee a day, first try reducing to 4 cups on the first day, and then decrease another cup every other day. This gradual reduction will decrease the chances of headaches and feeling tired and groggy.
Consider also using decaffeinated products in place of caffeinated products such as coffee. Most sodas are available in decaffeinated versions if you look hard enough. Do go into this knowing that caffeine is a flavoring agent and has a distinct flavor so that decaffeinated products do not taste the same as caffeinated ones even with the same brand name.
For some people, caffeine must be withdrawn from the diet more rapidly for medical reasons. If this happens to you or someone you know, discuss ways of minimizing withdrawal symptoms with your doctor. Increasing fluid intake while reducing caffeine may be helpful, as well as drinking caffeine-free alternatives such as calcium-fortified Ovaltine, low sodium broth, or decaffeinated tea.
In summary, caffeine is a drug that can become addictive. Its consumption has multiple effects on the human body, some highly desirable, while others are not. It can be especially harmful to individuals who are sensitive to its side effects and for individuals with certain health conditions.
As for whether caffeine alone can help shed those unwanted pounds, the current research results do not look promising. It is unlikely that caffeine consumption plays a major role in weight control. A moderate caffeine intake may be the answer for individuals wanting a little energy boost without the side effect or risks of caffeine addiction.
Lowering caffeine intake may be difficult. For some that means excluding brewed coffee from their daily consumption and substituting instant coffee for brewed as it is lower in caffeine.
For others, it means switching to a caffeinated product that they like less so that they are not drawn to it with the same intensity as their preferred caffeine drink or product. For others, cold turkey is the only answer. For example, there are those who become addicted to chocolate and find they must eat it daily, and often more and more, to get the feeling they desire.
With the chocolate comes calories and if the rest of their diet and exercise remains the same, pounds can add up on the body. Throwing away those bars of candy may be the answer. One other suggestion is to water down your drinks with ice or skim milk. That way you get the taste but in a diluted form as you cut back on the amount of caffeine each day.
Most people will use a combination of these and other tactics to lower the amount of caffeine or withdraw completely if they wish to cut caffeine out of their diet. For the rest of us, use caffeine knowing the facts about its abuse. Enjoy that skinny latte, but restrict the amount you ingest.
Have that first cup in the morning to get yourself going, but substitute water for every other cup you would have had during the day. And, if you are in diabetic control and want a real treat, add some coffee dissolved in water to your frozen non-fat, no sugar added yogurt.