Recent research concludes caffeinated beverages could do more harm than good

Many people drink coffee and energy drinks in an effort to feel more alert and awake. Many individuals do not realize that caffeine is actually a drug. In fact, it is a stimulant, and it affects everyone differently depending on weight, size, and overall health.

Just like most other drugs, you can build a tolerance to caffeine as you consume higher amounts of it, making it so that you need to consume more of it to get the same effects that you initially got from a lower dose. Needing to consume higher and higher amounts of caffeine to get the same effects results in a caffeine addiction. Many people are aware of this drawback, but what most don’t know is that there are a number of other negative health effects stemming from caffeine use such as restlessness, excitability and dizziness. Caffeine is also a diuretic, meaning that it can cause dehydration and an increased need to urinate; in addition, a thermoregulatory disruptor, meaning it can raise core body temperature.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation lists several other health effects caused by caffeine such as, stomach pains, headaches, a lack of concentration and increased breathing rate. Most of the health effects listed contribute to increased irratability and anxiety. Although overdosing on caffeine is rare, it is plausible if enough is consumed in too short of a time frame. For those that consume caffeine regularly and heavily are at a higher risk of developing anxiety, insomnia, muscle tremors and seizures. As such, users of caffeine should be cognizant of both the frequency of caffeine consumption as well as the size of each dose.

The CDC recommends a maximum consumption of 400mg of caffeine per day for an adult. For reference, some of the most commonly consumed forms of caffeine, such as a cup of coffee, a can of Monster, a can of Redbull, and a bottle of 5-hour energy contain 100mg, 160mg, 80mg and 200mg of caffeine. WebMD has a list of other foods that contain caffeine that are perhaps not generally thought to, such as green tea, black tea and iced tea and cocoa based cereals. Even decaffeinated coffee contains a trace amount of caffeine, as do dark chocolate, hot chocolate and some ice cream flavors like chocolate and coffee.

The CDC states that those consuming alcohol should also avoid consuming significant doses of caffeine, such as those found in energy drinks, when in states of intoxication. This is because when mixed with alcohol, caffeine gives the user a false sense of sobriety. A false sense of sobriety has a cyclical effect, to a degree, because it encourages individuals to drink more and become more intoxicated than they would have otherwise realized. While these individuals may feel more sober, caffeine actually has no effect on the metabolism of alcohol. As a result, people are more likely to engage in activities that become exponentially more dangerous when intoxicated, such as driving, with no lesser risk. This is just one of a number of negative consequences stemming from mixing caffeine and alcohol, including alcohol related injuries and unprotected or unwanted sex. As such, the consumption of high caffeine beverages, like energy drinks, and alcohol at the same time is largely considered one of the biggest concerns in America regarding caffeine use.

In spite of the dangers that can accompany the use of caffeine, research puts forth that there is a brighter side to its consumption. For one, Kathleen M. Zelman from WebMD, suggests that caffeine consumption can slow the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and even protect the brain from it in the first place. Consistent caffeine use has also been shown to help prevent heart disease by decreasing the presence of calcium in the blood. The antioxidant content of both coffee and tea has been linked to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and the lowering of the chances of developing diabetes type-2. The chemicals in coffee, specifically, have been shown to aid in the prevention of cirrhosis disease and cancer of the liver. She goes further to state that the general consumption of black tea and coffee has been observed to lower the chances of stroke occurrence through reductions in blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Although some of these effects stem not from caffeine itself directly, they are incurred through the consumption of caffeinated beverages, requiring the consumption of caffeine.

Despite the previously stated benefits, it may be in the best interest of some to quit caffeine use entirely. While this can generate several positive health impacts, individuals looking to quit caffeine use should take caution to avoid attempting to quit “cold turkey,” or all at once. Caffeine use, just like the use of other drugs, can result in the feeling of withdrawal symptoms when reducing consumption. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation states the safest way to go about quitting caffeine use is the slow and graduated cutting down of daily consumption. Reduction of caffeine consumption has been shown to lower anxiety, improve sleep quality, lower blood pressure, reduce skin aging, strengthen and whiten teeth and increase nutrient absorption. Those that are looking to quit using caffeine but still feel the need for an external boost of energy could try some well-known caffeine substitutes listed by WebMD such as maca and carob extract. Maca and carob extract can be added to smoothies or even just a cup of milk to provide fuel to start the day. Another suggestion by WebMD is to consume a glass of water with a bit of added apple cider vinegar. Although a caffeinated beverage substitute isn’t necessarily needed for those quitting caffeine, it can go a long way to help those who are attempting to do so.

Caffeine, as a substance, is just like any other in that it can provide benefits to its consumers but also be dangerous when consumed irresponsibly. Unless prior health concerns are present, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with caffeine consumption as long as excess is avoided. Individuals consuming caffeine should always be cognizant of the amount they consume; however, feel comfortable knowing that their caffeine use won’t hurt them and may actually benefit them in some ways if done in moderation.