Caffeine is a bitter substance found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, some nuts and certain medicines. It is a central nervous system stimulant, which can make you more alert and give you a boost of energy, however, too much can cause restlessness, anxiety, headaches and irritability. If you suffer from any of these symptoms and drink more than 500-600mgs per day, you may want to cut back.
What are the Effects of Caffeine on the Body?
Caffeine exerts its effects by disrupting the function of neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, involved in energy production. Specifically, it blocks the receptors for the neurotransmitter, adenosine, whose function it is to stop the release of dopamine. Our bodies make adrenalin, the motivating ‘fight or flight’ hormone from dopamine, so if there is a steady supply of dopamine, we continue to make adrenaline, which results in increased alertness and motivation. The problem is that the more adrenalin you make, the less sensitive your body becomes to its effects. Therefore you need more and more over time to achieve the same energy level, and when you don’t have the caffeine you feel tired and irritable and find it impossible to get going.
How does Caffeine Impact Health?
As we have seen, caffeine increases the blood level of adrenalin. This has many effects on health. Caffeine increases blood pressure, which over time can cause arterial damage that opens the way for atherosclerosis and heart disease. Adrenalin causes the release of glucose into the blood, raising your blood sugar level, which in turn increases your production of insulin
How to Reduce Your Caffeine Intake
If you drink more than one cup of coffee per day, there’s a good chance you’re addicted, which means you will go through some withdrawal symptoms – including headache, tiredness, irritability – if you suddenly stop. A gentler approach is to reduce your coffee intake over a few days or a week. Have your regular cup in the morning, but replace subsequent cups with green or herbal teas. Yerba Maté is a South American herbal tea that is caffeine-free, but gives energy. Even drinking a glass of water in the morning can boost your energy levels – as dehydration is a major cause of fatigue. If you really love the ritual of the morning coffee, it may be useful to try blending regular with decaffeinated, until the latter eventually replaces the former.
Keeping your blood sugar balanced, which you can achieve through diet, will help to keep your energy level up, so that you no longer crave the coffee buzz. To achieve good blood sugar balance, make sure that you have a good breakfast, combining complex carbohydrates and protein, such as beans on wholemeal toast, or an oat-based cereal or porridge with mixed nuts and seeds. Eat regularly with snacks between meals. Snacks that combine protein or healthy fats with carbohydrates are best – think hummus with crudités, fruit with a handful of nuts, or guacamole and oatcakes.
How Much Is In It?