Many people around the world today consume quite a lot of caffeine in their day-to-day lives, and most of us will be hard pressed to find a person that doesn’t have at least the occasional taste of it every now and then.
‘But wait’, I hear you say, ‘I don’t drink coffee!’
Well, even though coffee is the most popular example that comes to mind when we think of caffeine, it is by no means the only source that we encounter. If you drink tea, soda, and energy drinks - or if you sneak a few pieces of dark chocolate after dinner - odds are, you’re taking in your fair share of caffeine.
That almost makes it sound unavoidable, doesn’t it? Well, if it is, perhaps we should ask ourselves a few important questions, such as - How does caffeine work? Does it affect your health? And what kind of benefits does it provide?
As the world’s most popular psychoactive drug, caffeine is most commonly used as a type of cognitive enhancer that boosts alertness and gives the user a sudden burst of energy. For many of us, it serves as a perfect Kickstarter to get the day rolling, but it can also be a particularly useful tool for those wishing to exercise efficiently and burn any unwanted weight.
That said, caffeine is also taken by many people to treat migraines and headaches, and can even be used to improve the breathing of premature infants in certain conditions.
What is Caffeine?
As noted, caffeine is a psychoactive drug that usually acts as a stimulant for the central nervous system. Simply put, caffeine is able to alter the mood, perception and cognition of the user, and is often used as a kind of pick-me-up by many people around the planet.
While caffeine is most popularly associated with coffee beans, it can also be found in other types of food and beverages, such as in soda and in certain types of sweets.
What Does Caffeine Do to Your Body?
Everybody is going to react differently to caffeine depending on factors such as their size, age, consumption rate, etc.
That said, there are some common, almost baseline effects, that can be expected for most people -
- Stimulation - Caffeine's main trick is that it blocks the effects of adenosine in your brain. Adenosine normally works by making you feel tired and sleepy, so by blocking it, caffeine helps to stay awake and focused. It can also increase your blood adrenaline levels, causing you to become alert and energetic.
- Diuretic - As a diuretic, caffeine also helps to rid your body of both salt and water. This usually has the upshot of increasing urine flow and subsequent trips to the bathroom.
- Blood Pressure - Caffeine can increase your blood pressure as well, although this effect tends to dissipate with protracted use.
What are the Health Benefits of Caffeine?
A moderate intake of caffeine can provide you with a plethora of health benefits including, but not limited to -
- Performance - As noted, caffeine has the effect of lowering fatigue and boosting the energy levels of its users. This can often allow individuals to exercise for longer and thus improve their overall fitness.
- Metabolism - Although the gains may be minor, some studies have linked caffeine intake to an increase in metabolism, which could help you to burn off excess weight over time.
- Alzheimer's Prevention - Recent studies have suggested that a steady intake of caffeine may work to ward off maladies such as Alzheimers and dementia.
- Kidney Stones - Caffeine also seems to lower the risk of developing kidney stones.
Does Caffeine Protect Against Heart Disease and Diabetes?
While there is evidence to suggest that the consumption of coffee can protect against both heart disease and diabetes, it is unclear as to whether or not this effect is the result of caffeine directly, and may instead be attributable to some other components found in coffee itself.
Does Caffeine Improve your Mood and Brain Function?
Yes, it does. As mentioned, one of the biggest benefits of caffeine consumption is its positive effects on the brain in terms of both attentiveness and energy. That said, too much caffeine may result in symptoms ranging from dizziness and anxiety, to irritability and insomnia.
Does Caffeine Improve Exercise Performance?
Yes, it does. Generally speaking, caffeine works by making you less tired and more energetic. This can give individuals the boost they need to get started with their exercise, as well as increasing the duration of their workout sessions.
Is Caffeine Safe?
For the majority of people, caffeine is safe and effective so long as you do not exceed a daily intake of around 400mgs (roughly four cups of coffee). Ingesting more than this amount may result in various negative side effects, although even these will be highly dependent on factors such as the person’s size, age, average intake, etc.
Generally speaking, experts also suggest avoiding caffeine if you fit into one or more of the follow categories -
- You’re Pregnant
- You’re Breastfeeding
- You have high blood pressure
- You have any sleep disorders
- You’re taking certain medication that may cause adverse reactions
- You’re a child
- You’re a teenager
Are there Side Effects to Caffeine?
Yes, there are. Caffeine can result in various negative side effects, especially if the individual is exceeding the daily recommended intake. These effects include, but are not limited to -
- Stomach discomfiture
- Insomnia or other changes to your circadian rhythms
Additionally, some people can experience a form of addiction with regards to caffeine products and may find it difficult to curb their intake.
Does Caffeine Boost Metabolism and Fat Burning?
Studies have shown that caffeine is able to boost the metabolic rate. However, the extent to which this is done is not necessarily high enough to act as a weight loss agent all on its own.
Instead, individuals should attempt to incorporate a form of exercise into their schedules, and thus capitalise on the increase of energy felt soon after the caffeine enters their system.
What are the Recommended Dosages for Caffeine?
Most experts agree that your daily caffeine intake should not exceed that of 400mgs, or roughly 4 cups of coffee. However, as we mentioned at the outset of this article, people react very differently to caffeine, and will thus need to tailor their intake accordingly.
In other words, those of us who tend to stay away from caffeinated products, probably shouldn’t use the 400mgs mark as some kind of target to be reached each day. Instead, they should take amounts that work with their bodies and avoid pushing beyond their limits.
Does Caffeine Undo the Effects of Alcohol?
Occasionally, people will try to counteract the negative symptoms of alcohol by ingesting caffeine and hoping that the two will cancel each other out. Unfortunately, this does not work, and the adverse effects of the alcohol will still be present within your body, albeit hidden by the sudden rush of energy from the caffeine.
What’s worse, many people mistake the alertness they receive from the caffeine as a sign that they are no longer drunk. This can result in individuals getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, simply because they feel better.
In Conclusion - What is Caffeine and How Does it Affect Your Body?
Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that causes the user to feel awake and alert soon after consumption. It does this by blocking certain receptors in your brain that would normally be responsible for making you feel tired or relaxed.
Because of this effect, caffeine is usually used as a means to increase one’s attention and productivity during moments in life where such traits are required.
Caffeine is most commonly found in coffee, however it is also present in things like tea, soda, energy drinks, and dark chocolate.
Beyond the psychological benefits, caffeine has also been linked to the prevention of certain kinds of cognitive decay, and even an increase in metabolism. Other advantages may include things like heart disease prevention and a lowering of the risk of diabetes type 2, however it is not completely clear whether this benefit is a result of caffeine directly, or of coffee more broadly.
Caffeine can also be used to increase the effectiveness of a person’s exercise as it reduces fatigue and allows the individual to workout more effectively. Sometimes, it is even used as a cure for things like headaches and migraines, and as a beneficial factor in the prevention of kidney stones.
The effects of caffeine are generally quite positive so long as individuals do not consume an excessive amount of it.
It is usually wise to limit yourself to around 400mgs per day, to ensure that you do not suffer from symptoms like dizziness, heartburn, insomnia, etc.
Additionally, some individuals, such as pregnant women, children, teenagers, etc., should try to avoid caffeine entirely.