The silent killer
Caffeine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It’s the world’s most commonly consumed psychoactive substance. Unlike many other naturally occurring psychoactive substances, caffeine is largely unregulated and legally available in most parts of the globe. However, there are many less well-known mechanisms of action that clarify the physiological effects of caffeine on the body.
Caffeine has diuretic properties and can result in dehydration in excessive users. Dehydration may result from caffeine consumption because coffee contains high levels of caffeine and drinkers often feel thirsty when they try to quench their thirst. In laboratory tests, caffeine decreased nerve activity in the spinal cord and in the brain that control alertness and motor function. Caffeine increased nerve firing in the amygdala, a portion of the brain associated with anxiety, which may account for its stimulant effect on attention and mood.
In addition, caffeine acts as a mild tranquilizer. For some people, its soothing effect on the nervous system is enough to compensate for the more bitter taste of coffee. However, a person who drinks a lot of caffeinated drinks should be wary of developing adverse withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking coffee because their body will still crave caffeine when it is not readily available. It is also believed that caffeine users can increase their risks of developing dental problems such as caries if they consume too much tea or soft drinks with caffeine.
When it comes to energy drinks and soft drinks, caffeine does seem to be the ingredient of choice. Energy drinks are typically marketed to athletes and those on work breaks because it helps to boost their performance and concentration. The ingredients of energy drinks are typically caffeine, guarana, monosodium glutamate (a preservative), taurine, glycine, sodium bicarbonate, monohydroxymethyl ester, l-carnithine HCL, and taurine. Although there are concerns about the long-term effects of caffeine on health, some experts recommend its use because studies have shown that caffeine users burn more calories and are more alert and energetic than non-caffeine drinkers. On the other hand, soft drinks are usually consumed by children and teens who lack nutritional guidelines and don’t get enough sleep.
There are several theories about the benefits of caffeine but it has yet to be established definitively that caffeine can increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, or other health risks. Caffeine does seem to improve alertness, and energy but recent research indicates that the benefits may be limited to certain demographics. Most medical professionals agree that it’s important to maintain a well-balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, protein, fiber, and healthy carbohydrates rather than turning to caffeine and other “energy drinks” for added energy. Consuming too much caffeine or soft drinks containing caffeine may result in negative health consequences for some people.
Overall, the best approach to increasing energy and staying awake is to avoid the negative health complications of caffeine use by replacing these beverages with plain, natural beverage alternatives. For maximum health benefits, limit coffee intake to two cups per day and avoid energy drinks altogether. Switch to unsweetened tea or a variety of fruits and vegetables instead of coffee and you’ll get the same amount of daily antioxidants and other nutrients without the potential side effects of caffeine consumption.