Is Caffeine Part of Your Everyday Life?

professional woman holding a mug

By Alysse Smith, ATC
Athletic Trainer
MUSC Health Sports Medicine

Caffeine is one of the most commonly used drugs in America, according to the National Coffee Association "about 68% of Americans in 2006 said they were hooked on coffee." Most people rely very heavily on the kickstart that caffeine provides for the start of their day. The down side to this however, is that because it is an addictive substance, withdrawals can occur and develop as a variety of symptoms. The most common consequence of not having one's daily caffeine kick may be a headache. But alas, just as there are many pros to coffee, there are also cons to drinking this addictive bean water.

Most data shows that caffeine restores more than it enhances. It has been shown to be best for endurance athletes because it mobilizes fat stores, spares glycogen and muscle protein, and enables longer exercise. This includes swimming, cross country, track, wrestling and weightlifting. Study after study suggests that caffeine can improve memory, decrease fatigue, and improve your mental functioning. It can improve your short-term memory and speed up your reaction times. Caffeine intake, researchers and their research say, may help prevent type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and liver disease, including liver cancer. And it doesn't appear to significantly increase heart disease risk or cancer. Despite the research supporting the benefits of caffeine being somewhat inconsistent, more research is being done in order to eliminate that uncertainty as well as determine if it can be used as a preventative measure for some conditions.

According to James D. Lane, PhD, professor of medical psychology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, and a long-time caffeine researcher, "Caffeine exaggerates the stress response. At the cellular level, caffeine locks the receptor normally used by adenosine, a brain modulator that provides feedback to avoid overstimulation of nerve cells. If adenosine is locked up, nothing keeps the nervous system from getting too excited at a cellular level." Hence caffeine waking you up, making you jittery and jumpy, and energized.

Caffeine does boost blood pressure. Although the rise is temporary, it is questionable whether it's good for you when it occurs repeatedly. This can of course bring other symptoms such as increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, shaking, etc. After much research, it has been concluded that repeated elevations in blood pressure and increases in your reactions to daily stress that occur with caffeine intake could boost the risk of heart disease and other cardiopulmonary conditions. There is also a boost in blood glucose levels that accompanies caffeine intake. Not to mention the amount of sugar and creamer that some people, myself included, add to their coffee which can also be unhealthy after time. It is also considered a diuretic which means it can make your kidneys not absorb water, thus dehydration can occur more easily. Daily caffeine consumption may also lower bone mineral density in women. Caffeine can also be abused, just like any other drug or substance. Caffeine is often overlooked and not considered abused by many due to its mild symptoms, but it can have some pretty negative effects on health over time. Caffeine abuse symptoms include insomnia, tremors, nausea, vomiting, chest pains, and palpitations.

Overall, just as most everything in our lives, it would still seem that moderation is key even when it comes to our beloved caffeine. Too much caffeine can definitely be harmful, but in moderation and with appropriate consumption, it can be very helpful to keep us alert and ready to tackle the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.