Caffeine has been around as long as people can remember and has, willingly or subconsciously, become a vital part of our daily routines. We are all guilty of that one extra cup of coffee that we must have. But is caffeine the good guy or the bad guy? There are a lot of myths surrounding it, some deeming it to be the savior, some the evil entity. So, let’s find out what its true nature is.
Caffeine, which we know to be a friendly natural stimulant, has been around for ages. It is embedded in our daily beverages and has become vital but even though people choose a bias, I will not. Caffeine, when taken in limited doses is good, dare I say healthy. But when exceeding that threshold, it becomes toxic for you, like anything else.
If you want to dive in the biology, chemistry and extensive breakdown of this, let’s move on to the next section.
The Basics Of Caffeine
Before we make columns stating the pros and cons list about the ‘what’s’ and the ‘how’s’, let’s state the basics.
What is Caffeine?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant that is present in tea, coffee and cacao plants. It is also present in seeds, nuts and leaves of other plants. But, we mass consume the aforementioned, so let’s stick to that.
Other than the natural sources, we have caffeinated soft drinks and energy drinks for the little punch and instant dose of alertness.
If you want to track the chronology of the beverages, the first brewed tea can be traced as far back as the 2737 B.C. The soft drinks go on the mildly aged pages of history and can be dated back to the 1800’s.
The consumption of caffeine is also very high with 80% of the world population intaking it. That is a huge amount of people. I guess now we know how Starbucks earns that much.
Now, let’s move on to the working part of caffeine and take out our biology books for reference.
How Does Caffeine Work?
To put it simply, caffeine works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system. It prevents the brains from feeling tired by blocking certain neurochemicals. This is as simple as it gets.
Here is a little extensive and detailed version of the above statement. It might help you understand what happens when caffeine enters your body. Get ready for a little biology refresher.
Caffeine, when ingested, gets quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. The blood takes it to your liver. The liver breaks it down into smaller compounds that will be sent to affect your different organs. The main organ affected here, will be your brain.
There is a neurotransmitter to make you feel relaxed and eventually tired; Adenosine. The higher the adenosine, the more sleepy and tired you feel. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine. It connects the adenosine receptors in your brain but doesn’t activate them. Thus, you feel a sense of alertness and it instills the will to conquer the world (not really).
This is the reason caffeine is often considered as a psychoactive drug. Caffeine tends to exert quickly as well. It takes only 20 minutes of caffeine in a coffee cup to reach the bloodstream.
Now, you know how that coffee hits you at 2 a.m. when you’re rushing your work to meet deadlines. You want to know where would you find caffeine? I have you covered.
Where Do I Find Caffeine In My Everyday Life?
Caffeine is in a lot of beverages and even in some eatables. Some might be rich sources while some contain traces of the same. Some of the items that you may find caffeine in are;
- Soft Drinks
- Energy Drinks
- Cocoa Drinks
- Milk Chocolate
- Dark Chocolate
You may find small amounts of caffeine in decaffeinated coffee and tea. Although, it may be in traces and not significant amounts.
Now that you know how caffeine works, let us move to its effects; good and bad.
The Effects Of Caffeine
As all things, caffeine has good effects and bad effects that we need to keep in mind. Let’s discuss both one by one and give both sides a chance to make a point.
1) Mood Enhancing
Let’s start with the fact that caffeine is mood enhancing. I’ll tell you how. As I told you earlier that caffeine blocks adenosine. But it also enhances the effects of dopamine, otherwise known as the ‘happy hormone’, and norepinephrine. Thus, 1 or 2 cups of coffee and tea will enhance your mood while keeping you alert and agile.
Also, it was found that consuming 2 or 3 cups of coffee decreased the risk of suicide in an individual by 45%. It also reduced the risk of depression by 13%. It is also associated to protect against diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Coffee and tea have other bioactive compounds, other than caffeine, that are good for you. There’s one more reason for you to enjoy that hot cup of coffee or tea.
2) Better Metabolism
Caffeine also boosts metabolism and fat burning in the body. It aids fat loss but the effects may not be noticeable in the long run as they are very small. Caffeine is also known for enhancing exercise performance by delaying muscle exhaustion. It helps glucose last longer, making intense workout feel a little easier (and not like death).
3) Good For Health
I would also like to bust a myth that says caffeine increases risk of heart disease. As a matter of fact, it decreases the risk of heart disease. Add stroke, gout and diabetes to the ‘lower risk’ list. Other pluses involve liver protection, longevity, skin and gut protection.
These were all great points and it makes me feel that maybe caffeine is the good guy. But all of this is only true when you stick to small doses of caffeine. A good amount, about 200-300 mg caffeine is considered to be healthy. Exceed that and caffeine is not the good guy anymore.
The Ugly Side Of Caffeine
It isn’t always sunny in Caffeine-land. If you consume a lot of caffeine, it can lead to anxiety and restlessness. It can also cause irregular heartbeat and trouble to fall asleep. Caffeine is also known to be habit forming.
It is known to promote headaches and migraines. High caffeine intake may also result in high blood pressure. Pregnant women are suggested to limit or halt their caffeine intake as it can cross their placenta and may cause miscarriages’ or low birth weight.
If you are taking any medication, make sure caffeine doesn’t cause any trouble with its effects. If you are taking sleeping medication or anti-depressants, make sure you consult your doctor before you intake caffeine.
So, here were the side effects that come with the stimulant and none can be ignored.
I presented you with both the arguments stating the good and bad effects of caffeine. So, what is my take on this?
I would like to say, that anything that exceeds a certain threshold will become toxic. Caffeine has a lot of good effects but only when taken in limited amounts. You shouldn’t gulp down one too many cups to stay alert and end up all jittery and sweaty.
So, all in all, it is okay to have some caffeine as long as you are not becoming a caffeine junkie. In that case, caffeine is bad for you.