Caffeine: What Gives?


As I write this post this morning, I’m sipping on some delightful fair-trade coffee. I really do love coffee from the bottom of my heart and have since the tender age of 16. Come to think of it, I have no clue if I’d have made it where I am today were it not for my good old friend the coffee bean. Who knows, maybe I wouldn’t even have obtained my degree. I can vividly remember being in the McGill library at 4 ante meridiem, studying for a test the next day in the computer room whilst gobbling down chocolate-covered coffee beans to stay awake. I’m positive some of you can relate.

Coffee tastes ambrosial (thank you captain obvious) and can have physical and psychological stimulating effects we yearn for. In fact, studies are now showing that caffeine intake before workouts may improve performance. How much coffee is okay to drink if you are a healthy adult? Three 250 ml cups of coffee provide 450 mg of caffeine which is considered the upper limit in terms of caffeine consumption. Pregnant woman should limit their coffee consumption to no more than one cup per day and elderly people are more sensitive to caffeine’s effects.

Coffee is a drug, we’re told, because it has “reinforcing effects” (scientific term for “addictive”) and because consumption may lead to “adverse effects which can cause harm to self”.

First off, what is caffeine? Caffeine is the natural insecticide inside coffee beans which serves as a defence mechanism for the coffee plant. Any insect bold and heroic enough to chomp off a bite`s heart will start beating furiously and that insect will be left paralyzed or have a fatal heart attack (R.I.P.). Fun fact: coffee beans can make an excellent natural insecticide if you’re into gardening. Less fun fact: even humans can die from a caffeine overdose (doses need to be very high though). Fun fact (we can’t finish this paragraph with a non-fun-factoid): only 1-2 % of the coffee bean is actually caffeine.

We hear confusing things about coffee, some claim it is beneficial as it helps protect against stroke, prostate cancer and Alzheimer`s. On the other hand, we hear about coffee`s dark and gloomy side:  that it increases heart rate and blood pressure, decreases sleep quality and is dehydrating. We hear that overdoing it with caffeine can lead to muscle twitching, insomnia, headaches and heart palpitations (affectionately referred to as the caffeine jitters).


Let`s debunk fact from fiction. Here`s the science:

*Stimulates your central nervous system so can promote stress and anxiety, especially if you already have a pre-existing stress/anxiety problem.

*Masks symptoms of fatigue, which may cause you to overexert yourself and which may lead to exhaustion (it gives you “fake”/”fools gold” energy).

*Can constrict your blood vessels leading to a temporary increase in blood pressure. It can also lead to arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat that feels like a fish flopping around inside your chest – Not. Fun.).

*Acts like a mild diuretic, causing you to produce more urine and eliminate more calcium, magnesium and potassium via the urine (thus is potentially detrimental to bone health).

*May perturb the mechanism which helps you fall asleep and thus cause insomnia; it can also contribute to chronic fatigue syndrome.

*Its acidity is associated with digestive discomfort, indigestion, heart burn, GERD and dysbiosis (imbalanced intestinal flora).

I think we can all agree there are worse drugs than coffee. However, if you regularly consume coffee, you consume more than three cups a day or if you are experiencing unpleasant symptoms you think may be linked to caffeine, try swapping a few caffeinated coffees for water,  green tea or even naturally decaffeinated coffee and see how you feel. Espressos also naturally have less caffeine than filtered coffee (100 mg compared to 150 mg). Be aware that you may feel sleepy or experience headaches if you halt your caffeine consumption too suddenly, so wean yourself off slowly. Baby steps 🙂 .

You may think you actually need your daily 5 extra-large cups of joe but think again. It is proven that as consumption increases, so does your tolerance to it. This is to say if you reduce your caffeine intake significantly, when you do have that extra coffee, it will have the desired effect.

Bottom line: if you are enamored with coffee and have been in a mutually beneficial relationship with it for years (I don’t know how you would be beneficial to coffee but hey), 1-2 cups a day shouldn’t be too harmful if you manage your stress, eat a balanced diet, drink lots of water and don’t go overboard. As always, moderation is key, (sorry to sound like a broken record 🙂 ).


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