Effects of Caffeine

How Caffeine Can Effect You and
How to Cut Down

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by Mirella Levin

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What is Caffeine?

Certain people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. With frequent use, tolerance to many of the negative side effects will develop.

Caffeine is a naturally produced drug that takes the form of white powder. It is often used as a stimulant for the central nervous system and for the heart. It can also be used in the treatment of migraines. However, because it is used as a stimulant we classify it as a drug. Many people consume this substance on a daily basis through drinks such as coffee, tea or soda (e.g. coca-cola, ice tea etc.). This naturally produced drug increases our alertness and it gives our nervous system a boost to help us stay awake. The effects can persist for up to six hours even though the drug is not stored in our bodies.

Negative Effects of Caffeine Consumption

There are many negative effects of caffeine use. It can become addictive just like any other drug. Many people who drink large quantities of coffee, tea or soft drinks with a high content, might experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches (these can last for up to five days and are the result of decreasing blood pressure), nervousness, being irritable, restlessness and fatigue. More about the negative side effects will be included below. More serious is that taking too much of this substance can also lead to certain illnesses such as caffeinism which is a condition caused by the intake of excessive amounts.

In high doses, ingesting too much can lead to many health issues such as anxiety, headaches, dizziness and shaking. Some people are more sensitive than others. This is known as caffeine sensitivity (i.e. how much is required to produce an effect). The general rule is that a smaller person will require less to have side effects. Similar to other drugs, the more you ingest the less sensitive you become to it.

Over time people can build up immunity where they hardly feel the effects of the drug. This substance is also a diuretic so it will lead to more frequent urination. This could potentially lead to dehydration; however this theory has not been proven yet. However, there is evidence that consumption can result in the loss of calcium in the body and this can eventually lead to bone loss.

Coffee can act as a mild laxative, but if you have constipation, drinking too much coffee, even though offering temporary relief, can only make the problem worse in the long run. And it is definitely a no no for anyone with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Apparently this is not to do with the caffeine, but an enzyme I the coffee which acts as an irritant. Decaffeinated coffee will still contain the enzyme and will also trigger abdominal spasms and diarrhea. Cafeine is a stimulant so it can also effect the colon too which just exacerbates the problem. As coffee is acidic it will also aggrevate the bowels, so if you suffer from any digestive problems, including constipation, it is wise to avoid coffee and other drinks containing caffeine. The end result of using coffee as a laxative is that the bowels become even more sluggish. Try these exercises to prevent or relieve constipation instead.

For people who do not have digestive problems, caffeine is not harmful if consumed in moderate quantities. For an adult, it is suggested that 200-300 mg a day is an acceptable quantity. Because ite is becoming increasingly popular with teenagers, it is recommended that teenagers limit their intake to no more than 100 mg per day.

Where is Caffeine Found?

The following chart shows some of the foods that contain this substance and just how much of it they contain:


Amt.Drink/Food (mg)

Amt.Caffein (mg)

Red Bull energy drink

8.3 ounces

80 mg

Mountain Dew

12 ounces

150 mg

Coca Cola

12 ounces

34 mg

Diet Coke

12 ounces

45 mg


12 ounces

28 mg

Seven Up

12 ounzes

0 mg

Brewed Coffee Drip Method

5 onces

115 mg

Iced Tea

12 onzes

70 mg

Chocolate Milk Beverage

8 ounces mg

115 mg

Dark Chocolate

1 ounze

20 mg

Milk Chocolate

1 ounce

6 mg

Extradin Extra Strenght

2 tablets

130 mg

*denotes average amount

(Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, National Soft Drink Association, Center for Science in the Public Interest)

Image: http://www.euro-caffeine.com)

Tolerance, Depedence and Withdrawal

Becoming dependent or addicted is relatively easy: by consuming 100 mg on a daily basis. This can lead to any of the withdrawal symptoms listed above.

Regular caffeine consumption reduces sensitivity to caffeine. When caffeine intake is reduced, their can be a resulting drop in blood pressure leading to headache. This headache can lasts from for up to five days, and can be alleviated with analgesics such as aspirin or paracetamol or by drinking more coffee.

The most commonly reported effects of caffeine withdrawal also include fatigue and general lethargy, sleepiness, difficulty in concentration, irritability, anxiety, depression, flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, pains and stiffness in the muscles and chills and problems with vigilance and cognitive performance.

Cutting Out Caffeine

While it is better not to drink too much caffeine to begin with, but if you have developed a dependence on caffeine and wish to cut down or stop your intake entirely it is better to do so gradually. This will minimize the effects of caffeine withdrwal and make the caffeine withdrawal headaches and other side effects more bearable.

If you want to drink coffee, tea, or soda, it is almost always possible to find a caffeine-free or decaffeinated version. Go instead for plain water, weak green tea or diluted fruit juice. Another substitute can be chilled gazpacho, a cold soup popular in Spain, that can help you get your five a day as well as reduce caffeine intake. Replace your caffeinated beverages slowly with more and more non-caffeinated ones. Gradually replace your regular coffee with decaffeinated variety. Doing this slowly but surely should help you endure the effects of caffeine withdrawal more easily. Treat the withdrawal headaches with pain killers and drink lots of water to flush the caffeine from your body.

It is unusual to have extremely severe withdrawal symptoms but occasionally withdrawing from considerable caffeine dependence has been known to produce significant distress or impairment in daily functioning, but such extreme reactions can be avoided by gradual withdrawal. It is usually fairly simple to come off caffeine if it is done gradually and perfectly safe to do so. However, if sever withdrawal symptoms occur or if you are not sure if these are due to caffeine withdrawal or something else, consult your family doctor or other health care professional.

References: Caffeine and Health. J. E. James, Academic Press, 1991. Progress in Clinical and Biological Research Volume 158. G. A. Spiller, Ed. Alan R. Liss Inc, 1984.

Here are some books and other products about caffeine and how to beat the addiction to caffeine.

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