It seems that caffeine is everywhere today. Energy drinks, tea, chewing gum, sweets, chocolate, and even weight-loss tablets contain it.
While the love for coffee and caffeine is getting stronger by the day, there are people who always talk about the side effects of including it in your life. They talk about how it affects you mentally and physically and why it is better to stay away from it. But, the question is, “Do they really know what caffeine actually does to your brain?” There are many misconceptions associated with the use of it, and here are some facts and many of which might surprise you and even make you change your view about caffeine.
Many people say that you should avoid coffee, and instead stick to tea to protect yourself from the harmful effects of caffeine. Well, the truth is that tea leaves also contain caffeine; in fact, they contain more than coffee beans. Your regular cup of tea may not feel that stimulating though because it is usually diluted when prepared. Your average 100g cup of tea contains about 20mg of caffeine, whereas the same serving of black filter coffee offers about 40mg. It means that you can also get a jolt from your cup of tea if you use more leaves, and do not steep the tea for long enough.
There was a time when caffeine was included in the list of restricted substances for athletes, but that is no longer the case. When used properly, it can actually help you nail that personal best.
Some athletes are still under the impression that drinking coffee or ingesting caffeine is not a good idea, because it causes dehydration and initiates a diuretic effect by increasing the number of bathroom visits.
The truth is that it is not dehydrating or diuretic during exercise. These effects are only evident when you take caffeine while resting.
You may be wondering why your friend experienced nothing after consuming 200mg of caffeine, but you experienced its stimulating effects when you consumed no more than 100mg. Well, the answer may be in your genes. Scientists have found that a specific gene is likely to have an influence on how your body processes caffeine.
The gene seems to slow the breakdown of caffeine in the body. It means that if you have this gene, you are likely to get a more enduring ‘hit’ from every cup of coffee. It also means that you are likely to drink far less than people who do not have that gene.
Most people think that caffeine can cause insomnia, and it is true that it may lead to sleeping difficulties, but you can prevent this just by knowing “how” and “when” to use it. It implies that you are likely to experience some sleep problems if you drink coffee 2-5 hours before going to bed. You are less likely to experience that effect when you have a cup of coffee in the morning.
Furthermore, you cannot say that everyone drinking caffeine will eventually develop insomnia, because many people who drink 10 cups a day do not experience jitteriness, because they have a genetic predisposition that allows them to drink and process caffeine with ease. Interestingly, some studies have shown that people with ADHD or ADD may benefit from it, as it helps them calm down. And some studies have found that if you do not know there was caffeine in your drink, you may never experience any sleep problem at all. Caffeine works the way you ‘expect’ it to work. So, do not automatically think that it equals sleep problems, especially when you drink in moderation.
There is evidence that napping helps sharpen your senses when you are sleep deprived, and some studies have found that caffeine can also help make you feel alert. Interestingly, you can augment these benefits by combining caffeine and napping. Just drink a cup of coffee before a nap to enjoy an extra zap of energy when you wake up. Sleep deprivation can lead to a “sleep debt” – by the way, you can build up a sleep debt even when you do not realize it. Taking a nap is one of many ways to repay that sleep debt, but you can combine it with caffeine to get better results.
The thing is that your body takes some time to process it. It stays in your stomach for some time and then moves to the small intestine, where the body absorbs it. The whole process may take up to 45 minutes. It means that you will feel alert after 45 minutes of taking caffeine. It implies that you can take a nap soon after drinking it, because your body has not yet experienced the caffeine hit. That nap will improve your energy, and when you wake up the effect of caffeine will take effect. This will have an additive effect on performance.
There is evidence that it improves alertness, but other studies also show that this not affect working memory or reduce error rate to a great extent. This is also a testament to the fact that it can work in a weird way, and may affect some people more than others. Studies show that the overall effect is context dependent but it does lead to an improvement in reaction time but at the cost of accuracy.
In case of memory, studies have found highly mixed results. Some evidence suggests that caffeine increases perceptual/spatial memory, but it reduces working memory.
Overall, caffeine may work when you are doing a relatively routine task – it helps you keep going even when you are feeling fatigued. However, it fails to show significant improvement in learning, reaction times, memory, and many other psychological areas.
There are benefits of caffeine, but excessive consumption can certainly cause some side effects. Studies show that you can safely consume up to 400mg a day. It means you can safely have four cups of brewed coffee, but consuming upwards of 500mg can lead to problems.
It is actually not a very good idea to consume too much of it, because studies have shown that overconsumption is less likely to show any increase in performance. That is especially true if you have just started consuming it.
Have you ever wondered why office work and coffee go hand in hand? New studies have found the answer:
Some studies have also found an oil-soluble component called cafestrol that give caffeinated coffee opiate-like properties. Along with having potent analgesic properties, caffeine can also help improve the pain killing power of pain relievers such as ibuprofen and aspirin. It is because of this reason that caffeine is now a common ingredient in OTC painkillers – it is now also used in narcotic painkillers such as Percodan.
It is worth mentioning that caffeine uses several different mechanisms to relieve pain. Studies have proved it already:
However, there is little information about all those different mechanisms, and that is what makes it a lot more mysterious.
If you are looking for the best way to suppress sedation and increase the state of wakefulness, caffeine may certainly help. Did you know a cup of coffee can help you see better in the dark? In fact, the boost can be up to 38%. Some studies have also shown that it can help you discriminate between colours better. Another interesting fact is that it can help you ignore distracting stimuli in your environment.
Your love for caffeine can take you too far and this may make you forget that it is a psychoactive drug. It means that it changes mood, brain function, and behaviour by altering the activity of neurotransmitters. Therefore, you need to stay prepared to deal with some withdrawal symptoms.
However, there is something you need to know – not everyone is going to experience withdrawal affects, and if you do, those effects will not last forever. The severity of withdrawal effects depends on many factors including your age, general health, gender, and weight. Whether or not you drink or smoke and the condition of your liver and your genes also have a role to play (Source, Source).
In case, you are interested in breaking the habit but always think about withdrawal symptoms, here are a few tips to help make the transition easy.
There are some studies suggesting that consumption can lead to addiction. In fact, a “Johns Hopkins review of over 170 years of caffeine withdrawal research concluded that you can become addicted to caffeine from as little as one daily cup of coffee (Source)”. However, new studies have found that it is not addictive, but it can be habit-forming. Have you ever heard about jonesing coffee addicts hijacking motorists or robbing stores to arrange money to buy coffee?
The thing is that caffeine can cause dependence, but it does not fall into the same category as alcohol or opiates. Unlike drugs and alcohol, it does not cause crime, disease, automobile accidents, financial ruin, or a breakdown in social interactions, which is why it would be wrong to suggest that it is addictive. And the fact that many people do not experience any withdrawal symptoms when they give up is another reason why it would be wrong to call caffeine addictive.
The fact of the matter is that caffeine can ‘hit’ your brain in many different ways. What you experience depends heavily on your age, specific genes you may have, your overall health, and the amount you consume. You can take some to see how it works for you, and as it is not addictive, you can certainly eliminate it from your diet when you want. And if you are already a caffeine junkie, you may want to cut back on how much you consume. You can even quit drinking coffee, and if you are worried about withdrawal, you already know how to proceed, don’t you?