Wellness Wednesday: Caffeine Fiends

Half awake woman cradling a mug of coffee

Got your attention with this topic didn’t I?  So stay here with me for a while.  Here is the question.  What’s the big deal with drinking caffeinated beverages like coffee or some sodas?  Hypothetically speaking, what’s wrong with, for example, drinking a certain soda when traveling the 10 hours home by car from Huntsville, Alabama to North Carolina?

“I need to stay alert” I mean the hypothetical person driving needs to stay awake.  Is drinking caffeine going to be harmful to the body?  Read the following and you decide.

First some history, and for those chemistry enthusiasts, we are talking about caffeine, 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine.

Caffeine is considered a “natural stimulant” found in tea, coffee and some cola beverages. Historians have tracked the first brewed tea to as far back as 2737 B.C..  Coffee was discovered many years later by an Ethiopian shepherd who noticed the extra energy this drink gave his goats.  He then began the habit of drinking it daily.  Caffeinated soft drinks began to be marketed in the late 1800s with energy drinks following.  Nowadays, over 80% of the population of the world consumes caffeinated products on a daily basis. One article stated that this number goes up to 90% for adults in North America.

Caffeine works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system. Once taken into the body it is quicklywhite cup with cappuccino and foam in the form of a silhouette of the brain on a black background, top view, close-up, copy space absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream. From there it travels to the liver where it is broken down into molecules that can then have a stimulating effects on other organs, the main one of course being the brain.  Its main function here is to block the effects of the neurotransmitter adenosine.  Adenosine itself has the function of relaxing the brain and making you feel tired. So this feeling is blocked by caffeine.

Statistics show that more than 21 million Americans drink six or more cups of coffee every day, and at least 68 million Americans will drink at least three cups every day.  About 75% of those who regularly consume caffeine are addicted to it.  Now don’t forget as we stated above, caffeine is also found in cola drinks, some containing the same amount (and some more) per milligram of caffeine as coffee.

There are a number of documented adverse health problems associated with consuming caffeine in coffee or soda. The Mayo Clinic showed that caffeine could raise blood pressure especially in those who already suffer from hypertension.  This could lead to an increase in the risk for cardiac arrhythmias including atrial fibrillation which can lead to a stroke.

There was an four time increased risk of heart attack in young adults who consumed the amount of caffeine equivalent to four cups of coffee.

Another study showed that caffeine could reduce fertility in women, increase the risks of a miscarriage and impair glucose metabolism in those with type 2 diabetes, thus elevating their blood sugar.

Recently a California court ruled in favor of a law stating coffee sellers must post warnings about acrylamide, a potential cancer-causing chemical that is created when coffee beans are roasted as well as when sugars and amino acids found in other foods are cooked at high temperatures.

So there you have it. Now what are you going to do?  One author stated her opinion that “caffeine is a stimulant drug that takes over the normal circadian functioning of our brain and leads us into a vicious cycle of addiction.”

Now back to our hypothetical driver in the beginning of this article.  Would you suggest that the person in question follow his hypothetical wife’s advice and get more sleep before the 10 hour drive and do without the caffeinated soda?

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