Are you one of those people who cannot function until you have had your morning cup of java? Does your daily shot of caffeine magically open your eyes, activate your brain, and mobilize your limbs? If you’ve ever wondered if it was a psychological addiction, all in your head, a bad habit, or all of the above, know that caffeine does actually have a natural pharmacological effect on the body. It’s Mother Nature at work.
Whether it is an espresso, Nescafe, tea, or even a bar of chocolate, caffeine is the most powerful legal stimulant available without a prescription and has become the drug of choice for millions. As drugs go, caffeine is pretty benign when taken in moderation, but when consumed in excess, it can have serious health effects. A little dependence is of no concern, maybe even vital for early-birds and 10-hour workdays, but the fact remains that too much caffeine can do our bodies harm. The question is: how much is too much?
A regular cup of black coffee contains between 85-100 milligrams of caffeine, whereas the caffeine content of a tea bag brewed for five minutes is about 46 to 60 milligrams. Experts say that for most people, anything above 250 milligrams of caffeine a day (three to four cups of strong coffee) will develop into an addiction… meaning that if you don't get that much, you'll probably feel tired and cranky, and get a headache. Symptoms of too much caffeine include headaches, tremors, nervousness, irritability, and increased sensitivity.
Enough of the bad and ugly! Caffeine does have its advantages too! Let’s begin with taste; a well-brewed cup of coffee is unmatched in taste. It also helps keep us awake, increases our alertness, and makes for great conversation. Any other advantages to a cup of coffee? The answer is a definite YES! Caffeine is being administered to pre-term babies to help them breathe. It also appears to improve performance under some circumstances and improve mental speed-related tasks. And for those party animals, caffeine can be your best friend the morning after. Alcohol can give you a thumping headache by enlarging cranial blood vessels. Caffeine constricts them and so may bring some relief from the hangover blues. That's why it's an ingredient in some over-the-counter pain killers.
As with everything in life, moderation is key. If you are currently drinking more than the recommended amount of caffeine, cut down by one cup per day every three or four days until you are down to your target. Going cold turkey is not recommended as you will experience symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, which are irritability, headache, the inability to work effectively, nervousness, restlessness, and fatigue. To help you in cutting down, try replacing one cup of coffee for one cup of decaffeinated coffee. Be careful not to lose track of how many cups of coffee you have a day. The best way to stay ahead of the game is to limit yourself to one cup of caffeine-containing coffee per meal.
For many of us who open our eyes to a cup of coffee, it has become more than a regular routine or habit, and more of a dependency. In our 24/7, go-go-go, caffeine-fueled lives, it’s our morning pick-me-up, without which, functioning normally becomes somewhat of a challenge. Coffee has been with us for centuries and it will be for centuries to come. Enjoy your cuppa, just don’t overdo it! And if it’s taste you’re after, or the habit of having a hot drink, try decaf.