The Truth About Caffeine and Your Health

Many folks drink caffeinated drinks because, within 15 minutes, they can provide a morning lift by creating a state of wakefulness that can last up to two hours. Caffeine has also been proven to increase alertness, decrease fatigue, increase metabolism, and suppress appetite (although there's little evidence it leads to weight loss over the long term).

There is a downside to caffeine consumption. Many medical researchers report it aggravates fluid retention and pain in fibrocystic (lumpy breasts) conditions. One study showed that eliminating caffeine from the diet brought extraordinary relief from fibrocystic disease. (I participated in this one and concur.) Another study reported no effect.

Women who drink large amounts of caffeinated beverages are seven times more likely to report moderate to severe pre-menstrual symptoms (PMS) than those who have a caffeine-free diet. Too much caffeine can trigger a miscarriage. It's often used to reverse the effects of alcohol, but it's more likely it simply makes people think they're sobering up (a factor which could, in turn, increase the risk of poor reaction time and poor judgment).

The most common syndrome triggered by caffeine is sleeplessness. Although it hasn't been shown to be as physiologically addictive as "hard" drugs such as cocaine or opium, caffeine withdrawal can trigger severe headaches, jitters, irritability, sleepiness, and reduced alertness. And because the body becomes more and more used to the drug, people who use caffeine for its stimulant quantities need more and more. If you're a smoker this tolerance builds more easily.

In the U.S., until 1980 when scientific studies raised questions about its safety, caffeine was described by the Food and Drug Administration as "generally recognized as safe." Although it probably would not pass muster if introduced in our diet today, it is legal and unregulated worldwide. So, although the jury is still out on the relative seriousness of the effects of caffeine intake and studies continue to disagree about its dangers, all health educators generally agree that because it is a drug it should be avoided or, at least, used in moderation.

Perhaps, after reading this article, you decide to eliminate caffeine from your diet. Know that you risk getting withdrawal symptoms. The most common caffeine withdrawal symptoms are irritability, drowsiness, and a headache that begins as early as 16 hours or as late as two weeks after the last "dose." Withdrawal headaches often hang on for several days. If you don't withdraw gradually from the use of caffeine the headache can be severe.

The irony is that caffeine is added to some analgesics for the treatment of headaches because of its effects on blood vessels in the brain. So, some medications taken to relieve the withdrawal headache simply gives your body a "fix." You can avoid withdrawal effects if you taper off your intake of foods, beverages, and medications that contain caffeine over a one-month period.

Exercise regularly, eat wisely and maintain a positive attitude. Get your lift from life. 

Active logoSign up for a walking event.


Ronda Gates, MS, is a pharmacy grad who traded her white coat for a pair of athletic shoes and never looked back. Her health promotion business, lifestyles, provides motivational speaking, program development, and fitness assessment services to support people making a lifestyle change. She has developed health promotion programs for many organizations nationwide. Visit www.rondagates.com for a complimentary subscription to Ronda's weekly email newsletter.

Discuss This Article

Follow your passions

Connect with ACTIVE.COM