The Ups and Downs of Caffeine

When you're dead tired, caffeine can be an instant antidote, pepping you up and keeping you alert at crucial moments. A mild stimulant of the central nervous system, caffeine also revs up the heart, relaxes smooth muscles, increases stomach secretions, and has a diuretic effect.
On the positive side of the ledger, caffeine can increase levels of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) like norepinephrine, acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, and glutamate; these changes in turn increase alertness, attention, concentration, mood, and memory abilities and decrease fatigue. Caffeine can also give you a slight boost in metabolic rate, and regular caffeine consumption has been found to reduce the risks of Parkinson's disease and type 2 diabetes.
But caffeine becomes an energy-sapping substance when it's relied upon too heavily. It may increase blood pressure and cortisol secretion, cause shaky hands and anxiety, and contribute to insomnia and a delayed onset of sleep. Plus, if you're a java junkie who relies on caffeine (from coffee drinks, energy drinks, energy bars, and "natural" diet pills) to keep you going, the continuous rise and fall in stimulating effects is often accompanied by mild dehydration and symptoms of withdrawal—a bad combination.

It's a pattern that can lead to crashing and burning in the energy department. Believe me—I've been there! During my second year of medical school, when I was drinking a pot of coffee a day, I had built up such an extreme tolerance to caffeine that within an hour or two of having it, I would experience symptoms of withdrawal, including fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and headaches.
When you get an energy boost after drinking coffee, it's not real energy—it's the effect of caffeine, a drug—and it's short-lived. When the effects of caffeine wear off and your body realizes it doesn't have a true source of energy, you'll probably feel exhausted and maybe hungry. At that point, you might decide you need more caffeine, or you might choose to eat but end up overeating because you're in such a state of energy depletion. Either way, an unhealthy cycle begins again—one that can lead to further energy drain.

The take-home message: Use caffeine wisely, and pay attention to your total intake. Many women are fine with having coffee in the morning and then using caffeine occasionally as a temporary stimulant to increase alertness before an important meeting or before driving a long distance. If you find that you need additional pick-me-ups throughout the day, it's time to look at other energy-boosting measures (perhaps taking a brisk walk or a short nap, inhaling a whiff of a stimulating scent like peppermint, or splashing your face with cold water). Having more caffeine isn't the answer.

In April 2013, “USA Today” reported that 83 percent of Americans drink coffee and 54 percent of them have a cup every day. That adds up to about 587 million cups of java being consumed every day in this country, which helps make coffee a $30 billion a year business. Whether you go for conventional coffee or you’re a fan of half-caf soy mocha lattes, those numbers are nothing to sneeze at. There are pros and cons to America’s love affair with coffee, read on to get some of the details.

Pros of Coffee Drinking

Improved Mental Performance
A 2005 RSNA study showed that your morning cup can help improve your cognitive function because caffeine stimulates the brain and promotes alertness, focus and helps people learn and retain new information better. It aids in maintaining a person’s attention span; A Health and Lifestyle survey showed that coffee drinkers perform better on tests than those who shy away from java. Your work performance can benefit from drinking coffee or if you’re a college student, you may remember those tricky answers for an exam. You might even wake up in time to make it to class!

Gallstone/Kidney Stone Prevention
There are few things in life that are more painful and aggravating than dealing with gallstones or kidney stones. One of the benefits of drinking coffee is that you can reduce your chances of having these troublesome things flare up and wreak havoc on your body. Research by the American Gastroenterological Association found that people who drink four or more cups of coffee a day reduce their chances of gallstones by 25 percent over those who don’t drink coffee at all. Meanwhile, the chances of kidney stone formation drops 10 percent with just one cup of coffee consumed a day.

Cavity Prevention
In what may come as a complete surprise, drinking coffee can be good for your oral health. According to a report from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, drinking coffee can help reduce the chance of getting cavities. The tannins, which are found in the coffee bean, prevent the activity that builds plaque on your teeth. By drinking coffee, the transfer and activity of it is slowed, helping prevent your teeth from being attacked and maybe even saving you from getting your teeth drilled and filled.

Reduced Risk of Diabetes
Studies have also found a correlation between drinking coffee and type II diabetes. Depending on the amount of coffee you drink a day, you can reduce your risk of getting Type II diabetes by up to 50 percent.

Reduced Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Studies show that drinking three to five cups of coffee a day significantly lowers the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life compared to someone who drinks no coffee or a small amount (less than two cups per day). In addition, a study appearing in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that moderate coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of developing dementia.

Cons of Drinking Coffee

Sleep Difficulty/Insomnia
This one is a given; after all, coffee contains caffeine, which is a stimulant. Drinking too much of it, especially later in the day, can potentially keep you awake later than you want to be. In some cases, it may keep you up all night, which means you’ll need even more coffee to stay awake the next day. If you keep things in moderation and set a particular time of day to cut off drinking coffee, you should be just fine. Conversely, if you want to keep drinking coffee well into the afternoon or early evening, think about switching to decaf or half-caf at some point in the day. This still gives you the coffee but cuts back the caffeine, allowing you to get the rest you need when it’s time to sleep.

Another common theme with caffeine consumption is the fact that it increases the frequency of having to use the restroom. An easy way to remedy this situation and keep yourself healthy is to make sure you drink an extra glass or two of water during the day. Not only will you stay hydrated, it will help to flush out any leftover toxins that may build up over time in your body.

Coffee is slightly acidic, with a pH around 5. If you drink enough of it, especially on an empty stomach, coffee can stimulate the secretion of the gastric hormone gastrin. That leads to an excess of gastric acid in the stomach, causing you to feel like your stomach is on fire. That’s heartburn in a nutshell, though occasionally you can end up with acid reflux as well. If you’re worried that heartburn may be a major issue for you, have your coffee with a side of Tums and you should be all right.

Moderate to heavy coffee drinkers run the risk of heightening their chances for osteoporosis. This is because for every cup (six ounces) of coffee you drink, the body loses approximately five milligrams of calcium. All is not lost however; you can easily replace those lost milligrams by having two tablespoons of milk or yogurt per cup of coffee every day. So if you knock off a yogurt or drink a full glass of milk, you’ll end up ahead for the day and not have to be concerned about an increased risk.