Caffeine

Americans consume high levels of caffeine each year, which can be found in a number of products.  Coffee is the biggest contributor to caffeine intake.  Average consumption for each person is as much as 10 pounds of coffee per year or approximately two cups of coffee per person per day.  Some other sources of caffeine are:

  • soft drinks
  • black and green tea
  • over-the-counter medications (e.g. pain relief medications)
  • menstrual formulas

Caffeine is a natural stimulant with both physical and psychological addictive potential. Over time the stimulating effects of caffeine cannot be achieved unless larger amounts of the substance are ingested.  This increases one’s desire and “need” for the substance. To ensure no addiction develops, it is suggested to limit coffee intake to one cup per day, along with a week off every few months.

A cup of coffee or black tea (50 to 100 mg of caffeine) can temporarily increase brain activity and energy level. This stimulation also increases heart and respiratory rate. Initially, it lowers blood sugar levels, stimulating the appetite and craving for sweets. Fluctuations in blood sugar levels, such as those caused by caffeine, may cause weight gain. Additionally, the body releases stored fat and glucose for energy when caffeine is present and decreases the blood supply to the intestines, resulting in poor digestion.

Adrenal function is also stimulated by caffeine, causing increased production of adrenal hormones.  These adrenal hormones increase anxiety, irritability and mood swings. Constantly stimulating the adrenals with caffeine can weaken the glands with time. Eventually, this adrenal stress can lead to chronic fatigue and tiredness

Caffeine has a diuretic effect and speeds elimination of various vitamins and minerals essential to health. Specifically, potassium, zinc, magnesium, B-complex, and vitamin C are quickly excreted with caffeine intake. Deficiency of these nutrients, especially the B-complex vitamins and magnesium, increases anxiety and decreases mental performance. The depletion of the B-complex vitamins and magnesium can interfere with the metabolism of carbohydrates as well as hinder healthy liver function. This can cause health problems because the liver plays a critical role in blood sugar regulation, maintenance of estrogen levels and body detoxification.

Another concern regarding the diuretic effect of caffeine is that calcium is also lost with water via the kidneys. This has a negative impact on bone health. Caffeine also reduces the absorption of calcium from foods and supplemental sources, particularly when taken with meals. This lack of absorption and diuretic loss of calcium can, over time, increase the risk for osteoporosis.

Caffeine causes a variety of hormone changes, including an increase in a type of estrogen called estrone, along with an increase in a protein that binds and activates estrogens. Additionally, it has been found that women who have two or more cups of caffeinated coffee (or 4 cans of cola) per day were found to be twice as likely to develop endometriosis as other women.

Some foods, such as green tea, that contain caffeine also contain beneficial nutrients. Green tea contains polyphenols, which have antioxidant activity and may be useful in the treatment and prevention of many health conditions. The major polyphenols in green tea are flavonoids, with epigallocatechin gallate as the most significant active component. Additionally, commercial preparations are available that have been decaffeinated. They still contain between 60% to 80% of the total polyphenols.

The question is raised whether the health benefits found in the active components of green tea outweigh the negative impacts caffeine can have on the body and mind. The answer is different for everyone because each individual’s sensitivity to caffeine is different. A caffeine-sensitive person might suffer a number of side effects from small amounts of caffeine. On the other hand, some individuals can consume larger amounts of caffeine and not notice any effect. Therefore, depending on your own sensitivities, it can be positive to drink green tea in moderation for its healthful attributes.

Amounts of Caffeine in Common Beverages

Beverage APPROX. AMOUNT of CAFFEINE
Coffee, one 5 oz. cup
Decaf ………………………………………………………….. 4 mg.
Instant …………………………………………………………. 65 mg.
Percolated …………………………………………………….. 100 mg.
Drip ……………………………………………………………. 125 mg.
French Press …………………………………………………… 150 mg.
Espresso (one 1.5 – 2 oz serving) ……………………………… 100 mg.
Tea, one 5 oz. cup
Loose, black, brewed for 3 minutes …………………………… 50 mg.
Loose, green, brewed for 3 minutes …………………………… 45 mg.
Colas, 12 oz. glass …………………………………………….. 35 mg. to 71 mg.
Chocolate/Cocoa, 5oz. cup ……………………………………. 5 mg.
Milk Chocolate, 1 oz. …………………………………………. 5 mg.

Motivated to decrease caffeine use?  Unfortunately, many people find that abruptly eliminating this addictive substance causes unpleasant withdrawal symptom, such as headaches, depression, and fatigue. To avoid these unfavorable symptoms, it is best to gradually reduce caffeine intake over time.  Slowly decrease caffeine intake by incorporating other non-caffeine beverages with similar looks and tastes. For example, replace coffee with grain based substitutes such as Pero, Teeccino, Postum, and Caffix. Ginger tea can also be used as a safe stimulant to vitalize and energize. In addition, vitamin and mineral supplements along with regular exercise can increase energy levels and improve overall well-being.

Side Effects of Caffeine Use

  • Anxiety, irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Depletion of potassium, magnesium, zinc, B-complex, and vitamin C
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Frequent urination
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia, restlessness
  • Decreased absorption of iron & calcium

Conditions Worsened Caffeine Use

  • Adrenal exhaustion
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Fibrocystic breast disease
  • Gastritis and ulcers
  • Hypertension
  • Insomnia
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Osteoporosis
  • PMS

References

Botanical Monograph, Green Tea. American Journal of Natural Medicine. June 1997, Vol 4, No. 5

Carper, Jean, Food Your Miracle Medicine, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, Copyright 1993.

Hass, Elson, MD, Staying Healthy with Nutrition, Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA., Copyright 1992.