If you rely on caffeine to wake you up and keep you going, you are not the only one. Caffeine is used by millions of people every day to increase alertness, lighten fatigue, and increase concentration and focus. Caffeine has its perks, but can pose problems too.
A concerned reader posted a question to our Expert Panel regarding thoughts about caffeine versus decaffeinated, and this is what the experts say:
Question: I know how good green tea is for you and I know it has less caffeine than, say, black tea. But I’m very sensitive to caffeine. I would drink decaffeinated, but worry about the chemicals used to decaffeinate the tea. Is it better to have regular than decaffeinated? Your thoughts. PS. I love Buddah’s Herbs “Wings”!
Hello. Glad to know that you love the Wings tea! It is my favorite too! If you are sensitive to caffeine, making sure you are well hydrated every day with clean, pure water will help dilute the caffeine in the body. If you cannot tolerate any caffeine, you could stick with decaf, because I believe the benefits of green tea is higher than the concerns about the decaffeinated process. Or you could enjoy the variety and benefits of herbal teas, which are naturally caffeine free, such as Buddha’s Herbs Organic Chamomile Tea.
Tanya Reid, Certified Holistic Health Practitioner
Tanya Reid is a Certified Holistic Health Practitioner, Idaho Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Smoking Cessation Facilitator with the American Lung Association and American Cancer Society.
Caffeine… Is it really all that bad?
The health effects of caffeine have been extensively studied. Short term side effects such as headache, nausea, and anxiety have been shown as symptoms of mild caffeine consumption. Caffeine competitively inhibits different adenosine receptors and their associated G protein to make a person feel alert. A mild stimulant of the central nervous system, caffeine also stimulates cardiac muscle, relaxes smooth muscle, increases gastric secretions, and produces diuresis.
Caffeine is absorbed rapidly and is distributed throughout the body water within about an hour. It has a metabolic half life of about three hours and is excreted as a methylxanthine derivitive (in both urine and to a lesser extent, feces). Caffeine is a cardiac muscle stimulant, smooth muscle relaxant, and a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. One mechanism behind the latter is an increase in the excitability of neurons in the CNS. These physiological effects of caffeine are related to both the drawbacks and benefits of this drug.
The drawbacks you should be aware of:
- Dehydration is a major drawback of caffeine consumption, and results from the drugs ability to increase urine production. If you are not careful about replacing fluids with your morning cup, you could end up dehydrated pretty quickly.
- In addition to dehydration, caffeine causes some people to get jittery stomachs or “coffee stomach” – which can be quite uncomfortable and mask any potential benefits.
- Some of the biggest drawbacks of caffeine have nothing to do with caffeine itself. For example, some people don’t like black coffee and end up putting cream, sugar, flavoring, etc. into their coffee. A cup of black coffee every day only adds about 10 calories but a cup of joe with all the bells and whistles or a specialty drink like a mochas or lattes can run in the hundreds of calories – not to mention add extra sugar and saturated fat to the diet. For those watching their weight, these coffee habits can be detrimental. Remember, the powdered non dairy creamers have coconut oils, which also have saturated fat. Skim milk and an occasional Equal in place of sugar is a good compromise if plain black coffee doesn’t float your boat.
- For some, a cup of coffee in the morning replaces a healthy breakfast as it tends to curb the appetite. If this is the case for you, you may want to put off the caffeine for later and see how much energy a good breakfast gives you.
- An obvious drawback to any drug is the withdrawal symptoms that accompany its abuse. For caffeine, this includes primarily headache, and nausea and vomiting are more severe side effects of withdrawal.
Who Should Avoid Caffeine?
Caffeine should be avoided by those with any of the following clinical conditions:
- irritable bowel syndrome
- iron deficiency
- chronic fatigue
- cardiac arrhythmia
- kidney stones
The infographic below explains some highly informative facts and figures:
Curbing your bad habit!
An abrupt decrease in caffeine may cause withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, irritability and nervousness. Fortunately, these symptoms are usually mild and resolve after a few days.
To change your caffeine habit more gradually, try these tips:
- Keep tabs. Start paying attention to how much caffeine you’re getting from foods and beverages. It may be more than you think. Read labels carefully. Even then, your estimate may be a little low because not all foods or drinks list caffeine. Chocolate, which has a small amount, doesn’t.
- Cut back. But do it gradually. For example, drink one fewer can of soda or drink a smaller cup of coffee each day. Or avoid drinking caffeinated beverages late in the day. This will help your body get used to the lower levels of caffeine and lessen potential withdrawal effects.
- Go decaf. Most decaffeinated beverages look and taste the same as their caffeinated counterparts.
- Shorten the brew time or go herbal. When making tea, brew it for less time. This cuts down on its caffeine content. Or choose herbal teas that don’t have caffeine.
- Check the bottle. Some over-the-counter pain relievers contain caffeine — as much as 130 mg of caffeine in one dose. Look for caffeine-free pain relievers instead.