Caffeine can be dangerous Health Effect

The U.S. has the highest coffee consumption in the world followed by Brazil which is the world’s leading coffee producer. Coffee represents a fairly large portion of Americans’ weekly spending at an average of $21.32 on coffee per week. A recent Penn State study revealed that 85% of the U.S. population consume at least on caffeinated beverage per day. In addition to coffee that would include tea and soft drinks.

Caffeine is a stimulant found in various foods, drinks, and other products. Typically, it is ingested most in the form of coffee, tea, and soda – all of which have a considerable amount of caffeine in them. It is possible to overdose on caffeine because it is a drug, belonging to a class of drugs called mehylated xanthenes. The Mayo Clinic has stated that the safe daily limit of caffeine for healthy adults is 400 mg which equates to 4-5 cups of coffee, 10 soda cans or 2 energy drinks.

Being a drug, caffeine can be addictive. Regular coffee drinkers can feel jittery both mentally and physically if they don’t get their daily fix.  Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and include anxiety, irritability, concentration problems, digestive issues, headaches, fatigue, and changes in appetite. And, like in the case with alcohol, the body builds a tolerance to caffeine if taken regularly so more will be required to get the same kick.  

Regular caffeine intake however also has detrimental effects on health. In 2013 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in fact made the decision to investigate the safety of caffeine which is becoming increasingly prevalent in a wide variety of foods, beverages, and over-the-counter drugs. This even includes surprising items like Wrigley’s new chewing gum (which contains the equivalent of the same amount of caffeine as half a cup of coffee), jellybeans, marshmallows, waffles, syrup, sunflower seeds, and bottled water.  Michael Taylor, an FDA deputy commissioner, expressed his concern about the proliferation of products in the marketplace containing caffeine.

The Mayo Clinic stated adolescents should not have more than 100 mg of caffeine. Many young children however have far more than that as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) mentioned in a 2011 clinical report. It drew attention to the fact that some sports and energy drinks contain more than 500 mg of caffeine and these are being “heavily marketed to children and adolescents” with their parents unaware of the danger. While on the same theme, the Mayo Clinic also warned that more than four cups of coffee a day could lead to unpleasant side effects like insomnia, nervousness, irritability, fast heartbeat, stomach upset, restlessness, and muscle tremors.  Other symptoms of severe caffeine overdose include dizziness, thirst, headaches, fever, difficulties in breathing, vomiting, and hallucinations.

Sensitivity to caffeine can be attributed partly to how much people ingest, their body mass, age, and medication. Men may also be more prone to its effects than women.  Babies can also be at risk if breast milk contains excessive amounts of caffeine. Mild caffeine overdoses can by offset by drinking lots of water and eating foods abundant in potassium or magnesium like bananas and leafy greens. More severe cases may involve a doctor giving activated charcoal to prevent the caffeine from going into the gastrointestinal tract, a laxative, and a gastric lavage to wash out the stomach in emergency situations.  

Caffeine helps people to stay awake if they are sleep deprived but can lead to serious problems if people do not address the real problem at hand which is lack of adequate sleep. Modern society is very sleep deprived generally speaking and over time the body will suffer mentally, emotionally, and physically if it does not get the 7-8 hours of sleep a night that it needs. It is important to therefore recognize that caffeine in the form of coffee or tea offers only temporary respite in helping people to stay alert and awake.  It can lead to a cycle of caffeine dependence if people do not get enough sleep and ultimately cause more harm than good.

Caffeine is also a diuretic which leads to an increased need to urinate. It is also not as hydrating as water so drinking large amounts of it daily can lead to drinking less water than one should. It can also deplete the body of important nutrients like vitamins B and C, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and potassium.

Drinking coffee, which is the most common form of ingesting caffeine, contains high doses of chlorogenic acid. Drinking too much coffee can lead to an increase in homocysteine levels building up in the bloodstream. Homocysteine is inflammatory and is believed to be a risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, and heart disease. Drinking excessively large amounts of tea (e.g. two liters a day) can lead to the same result.

Caffeine does have some benefits. The Penn State report noted that health benefits of moderate doses of caffeine include weight loss, improved glucose tolerance and therefore less risk of type 2 diabetes, less risk of Parkinson’s disease and improvement for sufferers of the disease, and a reduced risk of cancer. It can also improve memory, decrease fatigue, and improve mental acuity if drunk in moderate quantities i.e. 3-4 cups a day at the most. This is the equivalent of 300-400 milligrams of caffeine and researchers from Oregon State University in Corvalis concluded that there was “little evidence of health risks and some evidence of health benefits” in an article published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition (March 2006). Ideally, however, people should not drink more than 200 mg in a day

Moderate coffee consumption — defined  above as three or four cups a day, carries “little evidence of health risks and some evidence of health benefits,” and was the conclusion reached by researchers from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University in Corvalis, writing in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition in March 2006.

There are also negative effects if taken in excessive quantities as in the case with any drug and we have touched upon these above. The key as in most things, is moderation.