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CAFFEINE! Is it good for you??

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

CAFFEINE! Is it good for you??

There are pluses and minuses to everything in life, right?  Same with caffeine consumption.  I, personally, don't like drinking caffeine, but I do drink iced coffee before I start a shift when I work overnights, and may have an iced green tea overnight, and I do drink one cup of black tea as my daily wake up.  Add that up and it is waaaay less than the average American BUT I used to not drink any caffeine at all- strictly herbal stimulant free teas for me, for years.  People thought I was bonkers, but I felt great, and didn't have that addiction.  Now, I kind of feel like an addict, and I hate that- I don't like feeling like I need something to wake up, but I love the ritual of my morning cuppa so much and there is no decaf version of the tea that I drink (I'm a bit of a tea snob).  So, after lots of questions regarding caffeine, and some soul searching, I am going to discuss the pros and cons and let you decide what is healthiest for your lifestyle...keeping in mind that everything in moderation is what makes a happy, healthy body!

First, we will start with what is caffeine?  I think that everyone knows that it is a central nervous system stimulant based in many plants, like cacao, yerba mate, coffee shrubs, and tea trees.  It is a pest control for these plants because the bugs that nibble, get so overstimulated by the caffeine that they die. It is actually considered, technically, a psychoactive drug, but it has never been designated as a controlled substance.  Coffee beans have a much higher caffeine amount than tea or yerba mate, and cacao beans have lower caffeine but also contain theobromine, which is also a stimulant. 

So what is the good stuff caffeine can do for you? Well, coffee and tea are loaded with antioxidants, which help to fight free radicals. There have been a few studies that have shown people who drink two cups of coffee per day have a much lower risk of colon cancer (roughly 30%).  The caffeine in tea and coffee can help reduce the risk of Parkinsons, really the studies showed the more caffeine the better. As well, the caffeine stimulation can help dilate the bronchioles, and hep with asthma attacks when other fast acting medication is not available (such as an albuterol inhaler).  As well, coffee drinkers have been shown to have a decreased risk of cirrhosis (by up to 80%), and a significant lower risk of gallstones.  Also, drinking caffeine can enhance a workout when consumed 30 minutes prior, although those studies all look at caffeine tablets as opposed to coffee/tea because they are too filling. As well, caffeine has been long touted as a diet aid, basically because it increases your metabolism, but it also keeps your blood sugar elevated, which sounds bad, but it deters those annoying "hunger pangs" for longer, and that stimulates brain activity (the brain works best with higher blood sugar- literally food for your brain).  And, caffeine has been shown in numerous studies to boost the pain relief when taken alone or in conjunction with pain reliever medications, especially with mild headaches!  It can also be cardioprotective (protect your heart from the risks of heart disease), decrease symptoms of gout, and the tannins in coffee can prevent tooth caries (cavities).

The bad? Well, due to consuming all of that coffee/tea because of the benefits can lead to some nasty issues!  Too much caffeine can cause destruction to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to gastritis and ulcers, so it is not a recommended beverage for people who already have ulcers, gastritis, or colitis. All of the caffeine may have  some health benefits, but anyone who has had too much coffee is aware of the jitters you can get, and irritability and anxiety can occur  from too much caffeine or as a withdrawal symptom for heavy coffee drinkers.  Also, it can cause insomnia if you drink caffeine too late in the day, or if you just drink too much during the day.  Coffee and tea can stain your teeth, which is nothing a little teeth bleaching can't take care of, but it happens nonetheless.  Also, there are two compounds in coffee that cause an increase in cholesterol levels, the compounds can be decreased by using paper coffee filters, but other methods of brewing coffee allow those compounds to stay in the coffee.  In a Danish study looking at pregnant women who consumed 7 cups of coffee a day (which seems excessive to me) had an increased risk of stillbirths, thus HCPs encourage decreased caffeine consumption during pregnancy.  Caffeine does interfere with iron absorption for women and can lead to iron deficiency. 

As far as coronary artery disease, there are tons and tons of studies all which conflict with one another!!  Some say caffeine helps, some say its bad, and some say it is only helpful in women.  Long story short, there are pros and cons to caffeine usage and to amounts per day, so the choice is up to you.  What works best with your lifestyle and your other medical problems.  I don't suggest that people with high blood pressure consume a lot of caffeine daily because it can transiently increase your blood pressure, but, again, it is up to you.  I prefer to stay on the lower side of caffeine intake, but I just don't like the feeling of withdrawal!  So, make the healthiest choice for you!

Yours in Good Health


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