That is the question.
About 90% of Americans consume caffeine on a daily basis, according to a Villanova study. 9 out of 10 of us chug coffee first thing in the morning or down energy drinks throughout the day.
Have you ever wondered about the effects of daily caffeine consumption? Maybe you’ve done a caffeine cleanse (guilty) and experienced severe headaches and fatigue – signs of dependence. Or maybe you just can’t make it through a workout without a powdered energy boost. Personally, a mug of black tea first thing in the morning is my daily ritual. Whatever your caffeine clutch is, let’s delve into the dirty details.
- What is caffeine? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines caffeine as both a drug and a food additive. It’s actually mixed with some OTC medicines and pain relievers to increase effectiveness. I’m looking at you Excedrin. Fun fact: caffeine is the most widely used drug worldwide.
- How much is safe? 4-5 cups of regular coffee a day, according to the FDA. Or, 400 milligrams. Of course, like any other substance, it depends on your personal tolerance.
- How does it work? Caffeine is similar to a substance called adenosine. Without getting too technical, adenosine binds to receptors in your brain and does things like: promote sleep, suppress arousal, and dilate blood vessels. When caffeine enters the brain it “parks” on receptors that typically house adenosine – blocking its effects. As a result, instead of slowing down, cellular activity speeds up. Hence the energy kick you feel and the alertness you experience.
- How fast does it take effect? After consumed, caffeine enters the blood and body tissues within 45 minutes, and can have some effects in as few as 5 minutes.
- Are there benefits to caffeine? Aside from tasty café drinks and mental alertness? Yes! In moderation caffeine has been shown to:
- Decrease risk of skin cancer
- Improve memory
- Decrease risk of Alzheimer’s
- Lower risk of colon cancer recurrence
- Dontrol pain
- What about the negative effects? There’s such thing as too much of the good stuff. So what happens when we pump our bodies full of caffeine?
- Energy drinks vs. coffee. A typical cup of coffee contains anywhere from 70-200 mg of caffeine. A regular-sized Redbull or Monster has anywhere from 75-85 mg of caffeine. However, most energy drinks are loaded with sugars or sugar alcohols, causing their own set of issues.
- What’s the deal with caffeine addiction? It’s more of a “dependency,” since backing off from caffeine consumption can lead to mild withdrawal symptoms, but you’ll be OK without it and won’t partake in self-destructive behavior. However, scientifically speaking, caffeine doesn’t cause a large enough surge of dopamine in the brain to unbalance reward circuits – which is necessary for a true “addiction” to occur. So while you can experience annoying symptoms like headache and fatigue, you’re not truly addicted. Though for some of us it may feel like it!
- Can I drink it everyday? The short answer is yes. Go ahead and continue sipping your morning cup of Joe, but try not to go overboard. Think of caffeine the same way you’d think about an OTC pain medicine – take it when it’s needed.
How do you prefer your daily caffeine fix? My go-to is an iced Americano, 2 pumps of sugar-free vanilla syrup, and a splash of almond milk.
Disclaimer: I’m not a medical doctor. Please consult a professional when dealing with all drugs and substances. Side note: please don’t do drugs.