Coffee or soda drinkers may be at risk for a variety of negative effects of caffeine. While the most obvious side effect of caffeine consumption is difficulty sleeping, too much caffeine can also lead to other problems.
Negative Effects of Caffeine on the Mind and Body
Caffeine occurs naturally in a variety of plants, including cacao pods, coffee beans, kola nuts, and tea leaves. However, the fact that it occurs naturally does not mean it is entirely safe to consume. Caffeine is a drug included in many of the beverages we consume, foods we eat, and medications we take.
Ingesting moderate amounts of caffeine does not typically cause negative effects in most people, but when taken in large doses, caffeine can lead to potentially serious health problems. When ingested, caffeine affects the body quickly and remains in your system for many hours.
The negative effects of caffeine on the body are numerous, but most disappear once the drug clears from the body. As a stimulant, caffeine elevates the heart rate, raises body temperature, and increases blood flow. These effects are potentially dangerous for someone suffering from a heart-related health condition. Caffeine also increases blood sugar levels and functions as a mild diuretic, reducing thirst and increasing urination. Diabetics may become ill due to blood sugar instability after ingesting too much caffeine.Caffeine also disrupts sleep cycles, causes insomnia, and irritates certain gastrointestinal disorders, such as Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and GERD. Excessive use of caffeine may deplete calcium stores from the body, resulting in decreased bone density and osteoporosis. Increased levels of cortisol and certain other hormones in the body following caffeine use may lead to cravings for carbohydrates and fat, which in turn can cause fat storage in the abdomen and increase the risk of obesity.
The effects of caffeine on hormone levels are significant. In addition to elevating cortisol levels, caffeine inhibits absorption of adenosine, boosts adrenaline, and increases dopamine levels. Alterations in the levels of these important hormones can negatively affect mood, metabolism, energy, and overall health. Other effects of caffeine consumption include headaches, breast tenderness, nausea, irregular heartbeat, and restlessness.
Excessive caffeine intake during pregnancy may also increase the risk of miscarriage in some women. A study published in the March 2008 issue of American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology showed that consuming more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of miscarriage. Caffeine is able to cross the placenta and enter the bloodstream of the fetus.
Even moderate amounts of caffeine can trigger tremors, nervousness, upset stomach, sweating, and other symptoms of anxiety. Doses of 600 milligrams or more can trigger panic attacks in susceptible people. Those with a history of anxiety and panic disorders are more vulnerable to the physical, mental, and emotional effects of caffeine. Through its effect on dopamine levels, caffeine can lead to depression or worsen existing depressive disorders. Irritability, difficulty concentrating, and excitation may also occur.
Dependence and Tolerance
Physical and psychological dependence on caffeine is a common problem, especially for those who consume more than 200 milligrams each day. Withdrawal symptoms, such as lethargy, headaches, irritability, restlessness, muscle aches, and flu-like symptoms, typically begin about 6 hours after last ingestion. Withdrawal may last for days or weeks, depending on the amount of caffeine normally consumed and the individual person. Some people may experience no withdrawal symptoms, even when suddenly discontinuing use of caffeinated beverages.
Caffeine use also results in an increased tolerance to the drug. This means that increasing amounts of caffeine are required to obtain the desired effects. Tolerance to caffeine may develop rapidly, especially in those who drink caffeinated beverages throughout the day and night.
Moderation is Essential
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies caffeine as "Generally Recognized As Safe." This label indicates that evidence shows caffeine use to be generally well tolerated and not harmful to health. Moreover, the American Medical Association states that moderate coffee or tea consumption does not increase the risk of health concerns when users also engage in healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating a healthy diet and limiting alcohol consumption.
The negative effects of caffeine are generally associated with high doses of the drug. Small doses of two to four cups of caffeinated drinks per day may actually offer some benefits. Caffeine can increase energy and focus and may boost metabolism when used in moderation. Studies also show that consuming caffeine prior to exercise can help the body more efficiently break down fat stores.
The consensus among health experts is that moderate consumption is safe and possibly even beneficial. The American Dietetic Association recommends that adults limit their daily intake of caffeine to no more than 300 milligrams, which is approximately three cups of coffee.
Breaking the Habit
If you are concerned about your current level of caffeine consumption and want to cut down, or are experiencing negative effects of caffeine, such as insomnia, the healthiest and easiest way to break the habit is with a gradual reduction. Start by limiting your caffeine use after lunch, as afternoon and evening use of caffeine is association with increased side effects and sleeping problems.
Sudden discontinuation of caffeine can lead to a dramatic drop in blood pressure, muscle cramps, and migraine-like headaches. Gradually reduce your overall intake over a period of one to two weeks to prevent withdrawal symptoms.