Can’t start your day without several tall cups of your caffeinated beverage of choice? Confused about whether caffeine is good or bad for you? Or maybe wondering why you get jittery after a few sips of tea when your friends tell you they can’t survive on less than three cups of black coffee a day? In spite of the fact that the average American consumes 300 mg of caffeine each day (between two and four cups of coffee), most people don’t understand how caffeine works and what its effects are. In truth, caffeine has both positive and negative effects. So, in this article, you’ll learn all about this molecule—and what it does in your body!
How Caffeine Works
Caffeine is a stimulant that crosses the blood-brain barrier and activates the Central Nervous System. It blocks adenosine, a substance designed to trigger drowsiness; it then has a stimulating effect. It increases neural firing and puts the body in “fight or flight” mode. This increases adrenaline and raises your heart rate. Caffeine also alters your neurotransmitter levels, specifically dopamine, which is designed to increase pleasure. When dopamine and caffeine wear off, it can create withdrawal.
For many people, caffeine can boost mood (by increasing dopamine levels) and alertness. Some studies suggest that caffeine consumption can actually lower your risks of certain cancers, including liver, mouth, and throat cancer. Caffeine has been linked with improved long-term memory. It may help ward off Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. It has been correlated with reduced risk of stroke, and in one study, increased caffeine consumption was associated with reduced risk of suicide. Caffeine has also been shown to reduce kidney stone risk.
When used internally via an enema, caffeine helps to flush and detoxify the liver. Used topically, it can help to minimize the appearance of dark circles around the eyes by constricting blood vessels. It has also been shown to increase hair growth in vitro in hair follicles of men who are prone to balding.
With all these incredible benefits, you might think that drinking caffeine is a no-brainer! But not so fast—it has some serious downsides, too.
Caffeine inhibits wound healing and collagen synthesis, which can accelerate the signs of aging. It inhibits bone building and can increase fractures. Caffeine can cause headaches and dehydration. In women, it can reduce fertility by more than 25%, increase the risk of miscarriage, increase the risk of breast cysts, and worsen menopause symptoms. Caffeine raises blood pressure, increases the forcefulness of heart contractions, and increases the risk of heart attacks. It has also been shown to increase the rate of early deaths for people who drink more than four cups per day.
Perhaps the most common side effect of caffeine is anxiety. It can create or intensify anxiety or depression, and eventually cause the need for psychological medications. Caffeine disrupts sleep patterns and, when taken too late in the day, can inhibit the deep sleep needed for the body to repair itself. Unsurprisingly, it can aggravate insomnia.
How Genetics Affects Your Caffeine Processing
The effect of caffeine on your body depends heavily on your genetics—which is why people have extremely varied reactions to it. In particular, a gene called CYP1A2 is responsible for about 95% of your primary caffeine metabolism. There are many variants of this gene, which determine both your speed of processing caffeine as well as its protective (such as protecting against Parkinson’s disease) or damaging (such as increased anxiety) effects on you.
If you happen to consume too much caffeine and find yourself feeling jittery or anxious, try consuming cruciferous vegetables other than kale (such as cabbage or Brussels sprouts). In particular, cabbage juice and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) have been shown to upregulate CYP1A2, meaning that it boosts the rate at which your body will clear the caffeine.
Should You Drink It?
As with most things, caffeine comes with good and bad attributes. Ultimately, it’s your choice as to whether or not you want to drink it. If you find yourself feeling jittery or anxious, it’s best to steer clear of caffeine. If you find that it boosts your brain and body, it’s okay to consume it in moderation (two or fewer cups of coffee or tea per day). Lastly, if you find yourself unable to wake up without caffeine, it’s a sign that something else might be going on—you might be chronically sleep deprived or suffer from adrenal fatigue. In this case, it’s best to seek medical help to find out what’s going on so you can heal the underlying problem.
Lastly, if you want some healthful caffeinated teas, you can check out our selection here! And if you’re looking for some awesome caffeine alternatives, check out our amazing selection of caffeine-free teas!
What’s been your experience with caffeine? Love it or hate it? Comment below!