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Understanding And Overcoming The Issue: HealthifyMe

Most of us can not go through our days without coffee or tea. The reason is that caffeine is a mild stimulant that affects the central nervous system and increases our alertness and energy levels. Due to that, caffeine consumption is progressive. The addiction is present among many. Also, unlike alcohol and other recreational drugs, caffeine does not attach any social stigma. So, liking caffeine becomes a dependence and addiction quickly. Read on to learn more about caffeine and its impact on health.

Caffeine Addiction: An Overview

The chemical name for caffeine is trimethyl xanthine. The blood absorbs caffeine within about 45 minutes after consuming it. Additionally, it peaks in the blood anywhere between 15 minutes and 2 hours. Also, coffee is not the only caffeine-containing beverage. Caffeine is present in beverages such as coffee, tea, energy drinks, chocolates, cocoa, and soda. 

Caffeine gets quickly absorbed in the gut. It dissolves in the water and fat molecules of the body. It also goes across into the brain. However, having some fibre content in the gut can delay how quickly caffeine in the blood peaks. Therefore, drinking coffee on an empty stomach gives one a quicker energy boost than if one drinks it with some food.

Caffeine is the source of the highest antioxidant intake in adults. Also, research states that ingredients in coffee can protect against liver cancer, prevent the development of type 2 diabetes, lower blood pressure, and even combat dementia and depression. However, it can also hamper human health. Caffeine can impact the central nervous system, immune system, digestive system, respiratory system, urinary tract, etc. 

These effects are also a function of the quantity of the caffeine-based product and also of the individual differences and caffeine sensitivity among people. Individual responses to caffeine consumption can also be attributed to genetic aspects. 

How Does Caffeine Affect the Body?

The liver can not break down all the caffeine one ingests. The free caffeine circulates and makes its way to the brain. The caffeine molecule is similar in shape to a neurotransmitter known as an adenosine molecule. Since both the molecules are similar, caffeine molecules bind to the brain’s adenosine receptors and stop adenosine from doing its job in the sleep-wake cycle. Adenosine, when it binds to enough receptors, signals to the brain that it is time for rest or sleep. Caffeine instead makes the person feel awake by masking it, and adenosine can no longer do its job. 

It also increases blood adrenaline levels and increases brain activity of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. As a combination, they stimulate the brain. As a result, the caffeine user feels awake and alert. Because it affects the brain, caffeine is also known as a psychoactive drug.

Caffeine Dependency: A Clinical Disorder

The WHO recommends not to consume more than 200 mg in one sitting (2½ cups of coffee) or 400 mg per day (five cups of coffee). People often develop a “caffeine tolerance” when taken regularly. It can reduce its stimulant effects. Therefore, one tends to increase their caffeine consumption to feel the same amount of alertness. Studies show that consumption of low to moderate doses of caffeine is generally safe. It also imparts some health benefits.

On the other hand, some caffeine users become dependent on it and cannot reduce consumption. Thus, the World Health Organization considers caffeine dependence as a clinical disorder.

When suddenly stopping all caffeine, withdrawal symptoms often follow, such as irritability, headache, agitation, depressed mood, and fatigue. The symptoms are very pronounced within a few days after stopping caffeine.

Caffeine Addiction Symptoms

Low to moderate amounts of caffeine intake are permissible and may do good things to the body. If one develops tolerance and consumes more, they can experience the following symptoms.

1. Anxiety or Nervousness

Low-to-moderate doses of caffeine can increase alertness. However, more than the permissible intake level can lead to anxiety or nervousness. 1,000 mg or more per day can lead to heightened stress, nervousness, and anxiety. It can have an impact on mood and behaviour. Unfortunately, a moderate intake can have similar effects like rapid breathing and increased stress levels in caffeine-sensitive individuals.

2. Tremors

Caffeine-induced tremors can cause one to have shaky hands. They are called coffee jitters. Combined with essential tremors in individuals, caffeine and drug-induced tremors can become challenging to manage. As per a study, 8% of essential tremors and 6% of Parkinson’s disease patients thought that coffee worsened their tremors.

3. Headaches

Caffeine makes one urinate more. As a result, it can dehydrate a person. Dehydration can cause headaches. A small study from 2016 says that eliminating caffeine intake led to other headache treatments to work better.

4. Insomnia or Sleep Disruptions

Caffeine typically prolongs sleep latency, reduces total sleep time and sleep efficiency, and worsens sleep quality. The sleep of older adults is more affected by caffeine compared to younger adults. Also, slow-wave sleep and electroencephalographic (EEG) slow-wave activity reduced. Wakefulness and arousal increased due to caffeine in drinkers. 

5. GERD and Loose Stools

A healthy amount of coffee can improve gut motility. Overconsumption can lead to loose stools or GERD. Coffee’s laxative effect is due to the release of gastrin, a hormone the stomach produces that speeds up activity in the colon. In some, large doses of caffeine may lead to loose stools or diarrhoea. It can also worsen gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in some people. It can occur due to a relaxation of the muscle that keeps stomach contents from moving up into the throat. 

6. Dehydration

Caffeine increases the urine output because it is a diuretic. Too much caffeine taken all at once may increase the amount of urine the body makes. However, it is more likely if the person does not consume too much caffeine. Increased stomach acid also can lead to acid reflux or heartburn in case of overconsumption of caffeine. 

7. High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Caffeine can cause a spike in your blood pressure. Caffeine can block a hormone that helps keep arteries widened. Caffeine makes adrenal glands release more adrenaline, which causes your blood pressure to increase. Studies show that those who drink caffeinated beverages regularly have a higher average blood pressure than the ones who do not. 

8. Caffeine Tolerance

Caffeine users develop tolerance over time. Therefore, their usual doses no longer produce the same result. They get habitual to more caffeine to get the same effects. People experience side effects differently due to varying caffeine tolerances. For example, some find it hard to rest if they do not drink much coffee. Some become overdependent on caffeine. They experience withdrawal symptoms when they ingest caffeine. 

9. Signs of Toxicity

Caffeine toxicity can occur with intakes of 1.2 grams or more in one dose. Consuming 10-14 grams at a go can be fatal. Caffeine intake up to 10 grams can cause tremors and vomiting. Toxicity is generally not seen when drinking caffeinated beverages because a considerable amount would need to be taken within a few hours to reach a toxic level (10 gm of caffeine is equal to about 100 cups of brewed coffee). It usually happens with caffeine pills or tablets. 

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Caffeine Crash

Caffeine increases brain activity, enhancing focus and cognition and delaying sleep. One experiences these after regular intake, and lasts for 5 hours on average.

After the effect goes off, if one experiences extreme fatigue and restlessness, it is called a caffeine crash. It is usual for the stimuli to reduce. Still, the extreme reaction to the body, when the body feels depleted of energy, is the crash. 

How Long Do the Effects of Caffeine Last? 

Caffeine breaks down primarily in the liver. It stays in the blood for anywhere from 1.5 to 9.5 hours. Caffeine shows its effects quickly. One cup of coffee can take as little as 20-25 minutes to reach the bloodstream and about 1 hour to reach full effectiveness. Some factors, like smoking, fasten the breaking down of caffeine. On the other hand, pregnancy and oral contraceptives can lower the breakdown.

Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

There are several side effects of caffeine overconsumption. If one consumes too much caffeine, they become caffeine-dependent. If one decides to stop consuming caffeine suddenly, it is known as caffeine withdrawal syndrome. Some signs of caffeine withdrawal include impaired behavioural and cognitive performance, decreased or increased blood pressure, reduced motor activity, increased heart rate, hand tremor, increased diuresis, skin flushing, flu-like symptoms, nausea/vomiting, constipation, muscle stiffness, joint pains, and abdominal pain.

The symptoms of caffeine withdrawal can last between 2 and 9 days. The peak intensity of symptoms occurs 24–51 hours after one stops caffeine.

There are several ways to reduce the symptoms. Re-administration of caffeine is one of them. It is advised to decrease caffeine consumption gradually to prevent the caffeine-withdrawal syndrome. Some symptoms, such as headache or gastrointestinal symptoms, are treated with medications. On the other hand, one can improve constipation by increasing dietary fibre consumption or over-the-counter medications. Oral or intravenous hydration and rest/sleep can alleviate many symptoms of caffeine withdrawal as well.

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HealthifyMe Suggestions

The amount of caffeine that is considered too much can vary depending on individual sensitivity, but generally, consuming more than 400 milligrams per day (equivalent to about four 8-ounce cups of brewed coffee) can lead to negative side effects such as jitteriness, insomnia, and increased heart rate. Try these alternatives to caffeinated beverages to reduce your consumption: Herbal teas, vegetable juices as these can be refreshing and provide vitamins and minerals, smoothies made with fruits & vegetables, golden milk made with turmeric and other spices, kombucha which is a fermented tea that can be a flavorful alternative to traditional caffeinated beverages.

The Final Word

Caffeine is a widely consumed stimulant that has both positive and negative side effects. However, it can also cause over-dependence in some. The results of caffeine dependence manifest in several ways: anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and GERD. Stopping caffeine suddenly can cause withdrawal-like symptoms in some. Withdrawal symptoms from caffeine, including headaches, weariness, irritability, difficulty focusing, mood swings, and shaking, can affect anyone who stops its intake suddenly after regular use. These symptoms can persist from a couple of days to over a week.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is just to disperse knowledge and raise awareness. It does not intend to replace medical advice from professionals. For further information, please contact our certified nutritionists Here.

Research Sources

1. Caffeine Withdrawal_Stat Pearls

2. Caffeine and tremor

3. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: A Population-Based Study

4. Nutrition and healthy eating

5. Coffee, caffeine, and sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomised controlled trials

6. Effects of coffee/caffeine on brain health and disease: What should I tell my patients?

7. An update on the mechanisms of the psychostimulant effects of caffeine

8. The Nutrition Source_Harvard

9. Caffeine Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Review and Research Agenda

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What is caffeine addiction, and how does it differ from regular caffeine consumption?

Q: Can anyone become addicted to caffeine, or are specific individuals more prone to it?

A: Women are more prone to caffeine addiction than men due to differences in metabolism. People with anxiety disorders are also more affected by caffeine and more prone to addiction. Some are genetically predisposed to caffeine addiction than others.

Q: What are the common signs and symptoms of caffeine addiction?

A: Caffeine addiction is linked to the brain. It triggers the release of dopamine. Dopamine makes one feel good and creates a reward cycle, which makes people physiologically dependent. Also, the reward cycle makes consumption an emotional need. When one reduces caffeine intake, they are likely to have withdrawal symptoms like tiredness, headaches, and irritability.

Q: How much caffeine is considered safe to consume daily, and when does it become addictive?

A: The WHO recommends between 200 mg in one sitting (2½ cups of coffee) or 400 mg per day (five cups of coffee). People often develop a “caffeine tolerance” if taken regularly. Therefore, one tends to increase their caffeine consumption to feel the same amount of alertness. That’s where it starts becoming an addiction.

Q: Are there specific withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting caffeine, and how long do they last?

One can feel tired or sleepy, sluggish, have Slower reaction times, and have less cognitive abilities. Occasionally, one can also experience flu-like symptoms, such as nausea as well as mood changes. Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal typically start around 12 to 24 hours after stopping caffeine and can last between two to nine days.

Q: Can caffeine addiction impact mental health, and are there links to anxiety or depression?

A: Caffeine addiction can also have an impact on mental health. It can increase anxiety, particularly in those sensitive to caffeine’s effects or who have a previously existing anxiety disorder. Caffeine can also link to symptoms of psychosis and mania in those who have psychotic disorders or mood conditions.

Q: Is it possible to reduce or quit caffeine intake without professional help?

A: Yes, one can do it by gradually reducing the intake. Also, by focusing on something constructive, like getting into physical activity, deep breathing, sleeping well, and hydrating well, one can get over it.

Q: Are there health risks associated with long-term caffeine addiction?

A: While caffeine in moderate amounts can fit into a balanced diet, excessive consumption may lead to adverse effects. According to the Food and Drug Administration, symptoms from consuming too much caffeine include sleep disturbances, feeling jittery, increased anxiety, rapid heartbeat, stomach upset, nausea, and headaches. Consuming a large amount of caffeine in a short period (around 1,200 milligrams) could also become toxic.

Q: Do certain beverages or sources of caffeine pose a higher risk of addiction?

A: Concentrated caffeine forms, such as powders or liquids, present significant health risks. The Food and Drug Administration cautions that consuming caffeine at high levels can lead to severe health issues. For instance, a teaspoon of powdered caffeine equates to the caffeine content in approximately 28 cups of coffee, far exceeding safe consumption recommendations.

Q: Can moderation in caffeine consumption prevent the development of addiction?

A: Yes, moderation in caffeine consumption can be good for the body. However, the moment one realises the dependence, cognisance should set in.

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