What is Caffeine and where is it Found?
Caffeine is a stimulant drug that is found naturally in the leaves and fruits of more than 60 known species of plants. Perhaps the most well-known example of where we can find caffeine in our daily lives is in a cup of coffee – which gets its caffeine from the coffee bean.
Most brews of tea also contain a moderate level of caffeine – albeit at about half the level of coffee. Caffeine is also a popular ingredient in quite a few other beverages. The recent surge in popularity of energy drinks now sees a great deal of our young people receiving alarming amounts of caffeine from indulging in these carbonated beverages. Plus, we mustn’t forget that the world’s favorite soda “Coca-Cola” contains caffeine.
Food products such as chocolate and energy bars also commonly include caffeine as one of their ingredients. The fact that many of these consumables contain caffeine is well known but lesser known sources of caffeine are over the counter medicines such as cough syrup and many popular cold and flu remedies. It is also common for diet pill manufacturers to use it in their products because of the metabolic stimulation caffeine can incite in the body.
Physical Effects of Caffeine
Plants use the caffeine in their make up to ward off certain insects that may otherwise find the plant to be a tasty morsel. In many cases the caffeine causes paralysis and death in the bug. So how does that bode for us humans who indulge in a caffeine habit quite willingly and regularly? As it turns out, not too well in a lot of cases.
Because caffeine is a vasoconstrictor (constricts the heart and blood vessels) it can increase blood pressure for 3 or 4 hours after consumption – which means that those who suffer from high blood pressure should limit their intake, or just avoid it altogether. Small doses of caffeine can make you feel refreshed and more alert but large doses may create a more dramatic effect with feelings of anxiety and nervousness. Many people report trouble sleeping when they consume too much caffeine during the day, or have it too late in the afternoon.
Excessive amounts of caffeine may also be responsible for many of the following symptoms in a large majority of the population:
- Trembling of the extremities such as hands
- Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
- Frequent urination due to caffeine’s diuretic properties
Neuropsychiatric Effects of Caffeine
It’s an interesting conundrum that many psychiatrists, when examining new patients, rarely inquire after their caffeine use – perhaps because of caffeine’s widespread use and acceptance. However, if you look at some of the neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with caffeine you will notice that many of them cross over into the realm of neuropsychiatric disorders.
While the energizing effect of caffeine is well known excessive consumption can lead to a state of agitation, rambling speech and thought, excitement, and insomnia. All of these symptoms also commonly occur in many psychiatric disorders.
Excessive caffeine intake is now known to increase hostility, anxiety, and psychotic symptoms in such a way, and to such a degree that many mental health care professionals are starting to realize that it should be par for the course for a practitioner to discern the level of caffeine use before prescribing any hypnotic drugs.
To treat the caffeine addiction the majority of these same professionals tend to lean in favor of a gradual weaning off period while substituting with non-caffeinated products.
Daily Caffeine Count – You Might be Surprised by How Much Your Taking
With caffeine being considered an innocuous drug that has worldwide acceptance people rarely keep a tally of how much they are getting each day. Because it can be found in so many beverages and food stuffs it is often surprising for someone to discover how much they are ingesting when they finally do decide to add it all up.
Some of the more common sources of caffeine and the level each contains are:
- Brewed coffee – 100mg
- Instant coffee – 75mg
- Tea – 50mg
- Coca Cola – 30mg
- Red Bull – 80mg
Many people consume more than 1 cup of coffee a day, with some also indulging in other caffeinated beverages on top of their coffee or tea intake. Everybody will react differently to caffeine, and the level needed to produce symptoms will also be different for each person, but if you notice any of the symptoms outlined above you may be taking too much.
The worldwide estimate for caffeine consumption as an average works out to about one caffeine containing beverage daily for every living person on the planet. In the U.K. the average daily consumption has been calculated at 359 mg, while in the U.S average caffeine consumption is slightly less at 200mg – but with an estimated 80% of the population consuming it on a daily basis.
In addition, we also can’t forget the amount of sugar which is often added to caffeinated beverages and foods. Sugar in and of itself can also cause similar symptoms when we over indulge. Mix it up with caffeine and you have a somewhat interesting cocktail for bodily abuse.
Withdrawals and Addiction
Like most drugs caffeine is addictive, with the body being able to build up a tolerance to it. You often hear people lightheartedly joke about how they can’t get going properly in the morning until they’ve had their first cup of coffee – but just try being around that person when they finally do miss out on their early morning jump start.
The most common stated symptom for caffeine withdrawal is an extraordinarily painful headache – one which many report doesn’t respond to any pain medication – except for maybe Anadin Extra, which is aspirin with added caffeine. Other symptoms for withdrawal include sleeplessness, confusion, restlessness, and raised blood pressure.
These symptoms often don’t kick in until after 12 hours of going without but are at their most severe for the first 1 or 2 days. During the course of the rest of the week many find that the symptoms become much more bearable, and those wishing to kick their caffeine dependence can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The thing to take away from this article is that if you have been suffering from insomnia, or you’re irritable, and often depressed it might be time to check your caffeine intake and reduce it or eliminate it altogether.
As with any addiction, different methods work for different people, most of you will be looking for strategies that will free you of a caffeine addiction without bringing on the often debilitating withdrawal symptoms.
Caffeine is rarely a life-threatening addiction so many choose to temper their intake and bring back some measure of control in a gradual manner – with some choosing to continue to indulge, albeit in a less frequent manner. Although there is an abundance of negative health information regarding heavy caffeine consumption, most will agree moderation in some form can greatly diminish many of the more profound effects of caffeine on the body.
Identifying Where the Caffeine is in Your Diet
The first step in taming a caffeine addiction is to identify your supply. Given that caffeine is in so many products it’s not as clear cut a process as you might think. Coffee and chocolate are obvious ones, but you also need to avoid most energy drinks, and soda.
If you drink tea you need to be thinking about how many cups you are consuming daily. Many energy bars also give you their advertised energy boost via the caffeine in their ingredients, so check the labels. There are a few over the counter pain medications which also contain caffeine. If you are in regular need of pain killers, then you should also make sure you aren’t feeding your caffeine addiction by your regular pill popping and should probably think about changing your brand.
Going Cold Turkey and Dealing with Withdrawal Symptoms
Typical withdrawal symptoms for going cold turkey on a caffeine addiction are headaches, nausea, anxiety, and irritability. It’s no mean feat going cold turkey as it certainly presents a few challenges not just for you, but for the people around you as well. For the most part cold turkey is not recommended unless you are really determined. Most reputable sources will instead lead you into a kinder gentler method of weaning you off the substance until you are no longer dependent.
Cut Back Slowly and Then Quit
When it comes to cutting back on your caffeine consumption there are many creative ways to do so without feeling like you are making the ultimate sacrifice. You could certainly derive some benefit by thinking of it as more a broadening of horizons, rather than as a limitation.
The Substitution Method
One popular method of substitution is to switch from coffee to tea. A cup of tea will contain about half the caffeine for the same quantity of coffee. Rather than just switching out altogether you could stagger the tea versus the coffee.
For example, a 4 cup a day coffee drinker could start with 1 cup of tea and 3 cups of coffee, and then gradually increase the number of teas until all hot beverages are cups of tea. Switching to a half-caf blend is also another popular method, or you could use a decaf brew in the same way as you would use the tea substitute outlined above. Once the caffeine intake has been drastically reduced its time to take steps to eliminated caffeine entirely with further caffeine free substitutions.
Herbal Teas and Other Non-Caffeinated Beverages
There are so many taste sensations in herbal teas just waiting for the recently liberated caffeine junky to try. A few herbal blends such as Teeccino are even roasted and brewed just like a normal coffee but are completely caffeine free. You’re not getting any caffeine but you’re still getting the comforting psychological effect of a hot brew.
Others you could consider are roasted barley with added chicory for a tasty boost in flavor. Just remember, you only need to switch out your caffeinated beverages gradually, but you may as well enjoy it by trying out as many different blends and flavors as possible.
If you’re one of those whose life isn’t complete without of hot cup of something you might even like to give plain old hot water a try. Weird as it may seem this is a trick regularly used by singers to soothe their throats and is often enjoyed with a dash of lemon and honey.
Something warm to drink during the height of winter is a pleasure that you shouldn’t have to deny yourself. Fortunately, in the case of caffeine there are plenty of tasty alternatives that also have a wide range of health benefits that help relax the body, rather than get it all jumped up for no good reason.
Replace With Sleep and Exercise
If you drink coffee for mental stimulation, then you can achieve the same effect with a daily dose of exercise. It doesn’t have to be dramatic as a brisk walk will stimulate your senses and have you thinking clearly for the rest of the day.
As caffeine is a stimulant it affects the ability of many to get a good night’s sleep. Without a good night’s sleep many find themselves reaching for a hot cup of Joe – which is a poor substitute. This is a vicious circle that should be broken. When you cut out your caffeine consumption you should also plan to hit the pillows early enough to allow for a decent amount of shuteye. Lack of sleep will only have you reaching for the kettle again, ready to start the cycle of addiction all over again.
Excess caffeine is toxic to the body and disrupts the pH balance. A daily regime of exercise, plenty of water, and enough rest at the end of the day helps the body detox and get it back into an all-natural rhythm, free of artificial stimulants. Caffeine – who really needs it anyway?
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