What is Caffeine?

Author: Gale Holmes, Office Manager

Each day, billions of people rely on caffeine to wake up, or to get through that night shift or an afternoon slump. Caffeine is a natural stimulant commonly found in tea leaves, coffee, and cacao plants. It works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system, helping you stay alert and prevent the onset of tiredness.

Caffeine’s main effect is on the brain. Once consumed, it’s quickly absorbed from the gut into your bloodstream. It then travels to the liver where it is broken down into compounds that can affect the functions of various organs. Caffeine compounds block the effects of adenosine, which is a neurotransmitter that relaxes the brain and makes you feel tired. As early as 10 minutes after ingesting caffeine you will start feeling the side effects. At about 45 minutes after ingesting caffeine we will get about 99% of the full effects lasting anywhere from 4-8 hours.

Because caffeine is a stimulant some possible side effects include: elevated heart rate, insomnia, nervousness, restlessness or jittery feeling, irritable bowels, nausea or vomiting, increased respirations, and elevated blood pressure. If caffeine is taken in larger doses (i.e. 6 or more cups of coffee per day) can cause anxiety, chest pain and headaches, even cause irregular heartbeats.

With all these side effects, why are there so many products produced containing caffeine? When taken in moderation, (i.e. 2-3 cups of coffee a day) there are many temporary benefits of caffeine that have been found. Such as being more alert and having a better ability to concentrate.  This is especially true with those who have chronic fatigue or sleep deprivation. It can also alleviate headaches or tension migraines.  When consumed in moderation, it has also been proven to reduce the risk of diabetes and lower our hemoglobin A1c. Coffee consumption may aid in those who have constipation, although this has had mixed results. Caffeine has even proven to reduce the risk in certain cancers such as throat or liver cancer and even prostate cancer. It has even been known to help in aiding those who are asthmatic with airway function for up to 4 hours.

Many athletes will promote energy drinks because it is proven to enhance athletic performance on such a wide spectrum. It has proven to increase strength and power output, high intensity cardio and aerobic exercise. It can increase our bodies responsiveness to testosterone and adrenaline.

Here are some recommended caffeine dosages:

1. For headache or improving mental alertness: 250 mg per day.

2. For tiredness: 150-600 mg.

3. For improving athletic performance: 2-10 mg/kg or more has been used. However, doses in excess of 800 mg per day can result in urine levels greater than the 15 mcg/mL allowed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

4. For weight loss: the ephedrine/caffeine combination products are commonly dosed 20 mg/200 mg three times per day.

5. For headache after epidural anesthesia: 300 mg. One cup of brewed coffee provides 95-200 mg of caffeine. An 8-ounce serving of black tea provides 40-120 mg of caffeine. An 8-ounce serving of green tea provides 15-60 mg of caffeine. Soft drinks such as cola provide from 20-80 mg of caffeine per 12 ounce serving. Sports or energy drinks typically provide from 48-300 mg of caffeine per serving.

Is caffeine addictive? Since caffeine is a stimulant, daily use can cause a physical dependency. Let us say you have a few cups of coffee every morning, as many people do to jumpstart their day. If you were to abruptly stop having your coffee or any caffeine intake, you may experience some symptoms of withdrawal for a couple of days until your body adjusts back from the physical dependency. Some common side effects are headache, extra fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Caffeine dependency is not considered a serious addiction or harmful like street drugs or alcohol.

The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.

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