You know that coffee helps you stay awake during that mind-numbingly boring morning meeting. You also know that it can make you jittery. Both of those effects are caused by caffeine. Caffeine is a natural compound that is found in coffee, tea, and chocolate. It is also added artificially to soft drinks and energy drinks.

Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the body’s central nervous system. Effects can be felt within 15 minutes of consuming it and can continue to affect the body for up to six hours. Caffeine can raise the heart rate and body temperature. It can increase blood flow to your extremities. It raises blood pressure and blood sugar. Most people can consume caffeine in moderate amounts without any negative effects but some people experience dizziness, nausea, anxiety, irritability, and blurred vision.

Like many things, caffeine can be helpful in moderate doses but can become dangerous at high levels. Let’s take a look at some studies released in 2014 on this stimulant and its effects on our bodies.

Caffeine may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease

In April, French and German researchers released a study that indicated caffeine could be a major player in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, it had an effect on Tau deposits which are protein deposits on the brain that disrupt communication and contribute to the degenerative symptoms of the disease.

A two-year study resulted in the determination that caffeine had a positive effect on these deposits and researchers are now calling for more in-depth research to create a new class of drug that may be able to help Alzheimer’s patients.

Caffeine and gender in children

At the University of Buffalo, researchers looked at the way caffeine affects girls and boys as they develop. With the rise in popularity of caffeinated soda beverages, both genders are consuming enormous amounts of this substance. It is being marketed to children yet no one had looked into the effects of this substance on developing bodies.

Dr. Jennifer Temple learned that post-pubescent boys and girls experience heart rate and blood pressure changes after drinking a caffeinated beverage. She also found that caffeine affects girls differently during their menstrual cycles.

A surprise relationship between Parkinson’s and caffeine

Researchers at Linköping University in Sweden discovered a genetic variation that may prevent certain people from developing Parkinson’s disease, especially if they drink a lot of coffee. While we know that family history and environment have a lot to do with the development of certain conditions, some genetic mutations help or harm a person’s chance of developing some disorders or illnesses.

One of the most interesting genetic correlations to be discovered recently is that people with a specific genetic variant who also consumed significant amounts of caffeine were less likely to develop Parkinson’s.

Caffeine may help worsen post-menopausal hot flashes

Caffeine isn’t always the harbinger of good news in the medical community. In July, the Mayo Clinic released a study that indicated caffeine could make post-menopausal hot flashes worse. Caffeine consumption made the night sweats and hot flashes worse for these women.

However, this research also demonstrated that it could help peri-menopausal women. With moderate caffeine usage these women had fewer problems with mood, concentration and memory.

Caffeine may help with tinnitus symptoms

For individuals dealing with the inconvenient symptom of tinnitus, a continuous ringing in the ears often associated with hearing loss, the caffeine news could be positive. Brigham and Women’s Hospital believe that caffeine could lower the instances of tinnitus in middle-aged and younger women.

From Dr. Gary Curhan:

“We know that caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, and previous research has demonstrated that caffeine has a direct effect on the inner ear in both bench science and animal studies. Researchers note that further evidence is needed to make any recommendations about whether the addition of caffeine would improve tinnitus symptoms.”

How to use caffeine safely and when to avoid it

Caffeine isn’t all bad. As many of these studies show it can have a positive effect on our health if used correctly and in moderation. So how do you know you’re being safe about caffeine consumption? And, more importantly, how do you stop when you’ve had too much?

  • Don’t rely on it to give you energy: Caffeine shouldn’t be your only source of energy. Don’t use it as a replacement for healthy diet and exercise.
  • Don’t use caffeine if you have health concerns: For example, if you have a heart condition the stimulating effects of the caffeine can be magnified and cause more long term problems than they solve. If you experience chronic pain flare-ups after drinking it, remove it from your diet.
  • Focus on natural sources: A Diet Coke or Mountain Dew can be refreshing but the added caffeine is a problem. Instead, focus on sources such as coffee, tea, or chocolate to get your caffeine boost.
  • Use the six hour rule: Stop drinking caffeine all together about six hours before you plan to go to sleep. The effects of caffeine can be felt for this long after the first drink. If you aren’t certain about counting the hours, stop drinking it at lunchtime.

Some people have a much harder time dealing with their dependence on caffeine. If this is the case for you it may be a good idea to quit all together. Quitting cold turkey can feel rotten at first, leaving you with a headache that lasts for several days, but it is the best way to get the caffeine out of your system. However, it can also leave you groggy and irritable. Talk to your coworkers and your family before you do this to let them know what’s happening. You can also wean yourself off of caffeine slowly over time. Reduce your intake and track your consumption to know how much you’re having.

What has been your experience with caffeine?

Image by Greg Rodgers via Flickr


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