Professional Fitness for the 21st Century

The Facts and the Fix: Caffeine

Blog 15: The Facts and the Fix – Caffeine

This blog series is not designed to judge those that partake in any of the substances mentioned in the Facts and Fix series. It is merely a statement of the facts about the effects they have on your body in the short, medium and long-term and a possible selection of fixes should you wish to avoid the negative consequences. That’s all. This blog is all about caffeine based drinks

                I am a huge fan of coffee. The way it tastes, the way it makes me feel when I drink it; I feel full of life and believe I can achieve anything. Any feelings of sluggishness or lethargy leave me and I feel motivated to get on with what I need to. I also enjoy sharing it with friends. Like alcohol, it is a social drink, I often ‘meet people for a coffee’ or ‘invite them over for a coffee.’ Millions of others across the world share in my love of this miracle beverage. Places like Starbucks, Costa and Café Nero have built global franchises that have evolved into coffee bars that simply facilitate the consumption of something that people have near enough become addicted to! And all because of wonderful little chemical called caffeine.

Caffeine often receives bad press. It has been deemed a diuretic (causes dehydration), addictive, and something that increases the likely hood of insomnia, and feelings of anxiety and paranoia. Others say it improves concentration, focus, feelings of positivity and actually contains sufficient water to counteract any diuretic effects it may have. All we can do is rely on good old science to give us the facts. We can then draw our own conclusions about our levels of consumption.

The Facts…

Caffeine is an Alpha-Blocker…

Below is an image of a caffeine molecule. Its stimulating effects are due to it’s shape resembling that of an adenosine molecule – a molecule responsible for the regulation of brain function. To put it simply, those with optimum levels of adenosine will find it easy to go to sleep when they need to. Caffeine binds to the alpha-receptors that would usually receive the adenosine molecule and for a period of time ‘block’ these receptors from absorbing it, holding off the feelings that adenosine would naturally create – allowing the brains stimulants to act unimpeded.

caffeine

Adenosine levels are regulated by our natural body clocks known as the circadian clock (Miller, 2013). This means there is an optimum time for caffeine consumption should you wish to stave of feelings of tiredness. Cortisol levels are naturally at their highest when we wake up, so consuming caffeine when we first wake up is actually not the best way to ensure optimum energy and focus. You need to wait until around 2 hours after you wake when cortisol levels have dropped. Caffeine begins to take effect just 10 minutes after it’s consumption, and reaches it’s peak 45 minutes in (Plataforma, 2008). The effects then last around 3-4 hours.

Drinking coffee may help you live longer…

Coffee contains a number of anti-oxidants (Gunnars, 2014) that act to reduce the effects of free-radical damage in our bodies. Free radical damage has been linked to ageing and diseases such as cancer and heart disease. (Freedman et al. 2012). Although there has been no causal link made, the evidence is particularly compelling.

You may become addicted to caffeine…

The brain is a particularly intelligent organ and adapts to the blocking of the receptors by creating more. The brain’s chemistry changes (Stromberg, 2013) means caffeine intake must increase in line with the increased number of receptors to experience the same effects.

There are a number of side effects related to the consumption of caffeine…

The main ones include:

  • Eyes – Blurred vision
  • Central/Mental – Drowsiness, Decreased or increased hunger, Thirst, Anxiety, Confusion, Irritability, Insomnia
  • Systemic – Hyperglycemia
  • Muscular – Tremors
  • Gastric – Nausea
  • Urinary – Increased urination, Ketones in urine
  • Respiratory – Fruit like breath odour, troubled breathing
  • Heart – Faster heartbeat
  • Skin – Flushing, cold sweats, pallor
  • Mouth – dryness

Quitting caffeine altogether can result in headaches for up to 9 days. People naturally find it very difficult, hence why it is now listed as a mental health disorder to have trouble quitting (Reddy, 2013).

One of the most common side effects includes sleep impairment (NHS, 2013). Even an afternoon coffee can have an effect on this depedning on your bodies levels of adaptation to coffee.

Often cited as a common side effect is the diuretic effects of coffee. Caffeine acts as a mild diuretic but not enough of one to pose the risk of net dehydration (Zeratsky, 2014). A better way of ensuring hydration is not by cutting down on caffeine based drinks but increasing the amount of water you drink.

The Fix:

Whether you believe you need a fix or not depends on whether the side effects affect to the point where you feel you need to cut down or quit altogether. For example I found I was drinking a lot of coffee during a particularly stressful week. This did nothing for my concentration and accentuated feelings of stress and anxiety. So I stopped for the remainder of the week and found myself calming down again. Come the weekend, I was able to enjoy coffee again! That said, I have a strong reaction to caffeine. Usually I only need one cup and that’s me racing for the day! It wasn’t easy to stop though. It sometimes becomes a bit of a crutch for productivity, and it really needn’t be.

Like with alcohol, smoking and drugs, the body builds up a form of physical dependence on caffeine, meaning an instant reduction can lead to some pretty intense withdrawal symptoms (Peckham, 2013)  Reducing intake slowly is the best way to cut down without experiencing these withdrawal effects. The body can adapt in line with the reduction. Try replacing 1/2 a cup each day, replacing these cups with water or herbal teas. Not as exciting but if the effects you are experiencing are causing you trouble then it’s a choice between cutting out the cause of these negative effects or allowing them to continue because you won’t reduce your intake. Ultimately, as ever, the choice is yours.

If you need any advice speak to any of our Manchester Personal Trainers…

References:

Freedman et al. (2012) ‘Association of coffee drinking with total and cause-specific mortality’ New England Journal of Medicine – http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1112010

Gunnars, K. (2014) ‘Drinking Coffee may help you Live Longer’http://www.businessinsider.com/drinking-coffee-may-help-you-live-longer-2014-1?IR=T

Miller, S (2013) ‘The Scientifically best time to drink coffee’http://gizmodo.com/the-scientifically-best-time-to-drink-coffee-1460030914

NHS, (2013) ‘Even afternoon coffee disrupts sleep, study finds’http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/11november/pages/even-afternoon-coffee-disrupts-sleep-study-finds.aspx

Peckham, M (2013) ‘Caffeine Withdrawal is now a Mental Disorder: Does it really belong in a guide devoted to mental disorders?’http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/05/31/caffeine-withdrawal-is-now-a-mental-disorder/

Plataforma (2008) ‘Caffeine has a greater effect on men, and starts only ten minutes after consumption’  – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081222113526.htm

Reddy, S (2013) ‘A Coffee withdrawal Diagnosis: Quitting Caffeine is Now Listed as a Mental-Health Disorder; The best Ways to break the habit’  https://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324904004578537263312778902

Stromberg, J. (2013) ‘How your brain becomes addicted to caffeine’ – Smithsonian.com http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/this-is-how-your-brain-becomes-addicted-to-caffeine-26861037/?no-ist=

Zeratsky, K R.D, L.D. (2014) Reply to question: I’ve been seeing ads that say caffeinated drinks hydrate you as well as water does. Is this true? http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/caffeinated-drinks/faq-20057965

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