<b>YOUR HEALTH | </b>By Katie Murdoch Herald writer
It’s no wonder people reach for a cup of joe for an immediate jolt of energy.
Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, fights fatigue and helps to improve concentration and focus, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Caffeine has been called the most popular drug in the world, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
The stimulant is found in more than 60 plants, including the coffee bean, tea leaf and cacao pod.
It is consumed on a daily basis in cups of coffee, tea, cocoa, cans of soft drinks, chocolates and over-the-counter pills.
While it can’t replace the health benefits of a good night’s sleep, caffeine can temporarily block sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increase adrenaline.
According to the 2001 Sleep in America poll, 43 percent of Americans are “very likely” to use caffeinated beverages to combat daytime sleepiness.
The stimulating effects of caffeine kick in within 15 minutes of consumption and last several hours. It takes around six hours for one half of the caffeine consumed to be eliminated.
The Mayo Clinic says consuming caffeine in moderation doesn’t carry any harmful effects. The recommended amount for adults is about two to four cups of brewed coffee per day, or 200 to 300 milligrams.
Guzzling beyond the recommended four cups per day can cause unpleasant, yet probably unharmful, side effects. A heavy daily caffeine dose is considered more than 500 to 600 milligrams per day.
There is no nutritional need for caffeine in the diet, says the Sleep Foundation. Neither are there any recognized health risks to consuming more than moderate amounts.
However, it’s not a recommended beverage choice for children. Caffeinated drinks can harm a child’s health by influencing them to reach for a soda rather than a nutrient-dense option like milk. Further, caffeine can depress the appetite, causing children to eat less.
Unwanted side effects include irritability, upset stomach and fast heartbeat, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Another indicator of consuming too much caffeine is when it interferes with sleep. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night. But caffeine can disturb sleep on top of work, travel or stress which will negatively affect alertness during the day and work performance.
Relying on caffeine to fight sleep to pull an all-nighter or jet lag can create a vicious cycle. Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine to stay awake during the day can mean not being able to fall asleep at night.
Some medications and supplements can interact with caffeine causing unpleasant side effects.
Antibiotics Cipro and Noroxin, for example, can meddle with the breakdown of caffeine, increasing how long caffeine and its effects stay in one’s system.
Mixing caffeine with theophylline, a medication used to open up bronchial airways by relaxing the surrounding muscles, can cause nausea, vomiting and heart palpitations. The medication’s effects are similar to those of caffeine. Mixing with caffeine raises the concentration of the medication in the patient’s blood.
Consumers may decide to cut back on caffeine for a number of reasons including cutting costs on espresso drinks. The reasons can be simple, but pulling it off can be hard. Cutting back abruptly causes withdrawal symptoms including headaches, fatigue and nervousness that last a few days.
To cut back gradually, the Mayo Clinic recommends reading food labels as products can contain more caffeine than most people realize. Chocolate, for example, doesn’t list caffeine as one of its ingredients, but small doses are included. Also be mindful of over-the-counter medications, like pain killers, which can contain caffeine. Switch to decaffeinated options, which can taste and look like caffeinated drinks.
Brew caffeinated teas for a shorter amount of time or switch to caffeine-free herbal varieties. Also try drinking one less soda or latte per day.
Want to cut back?
The Mayo Clinic offers these tips to help cut back on caffeine:
KEEP TABS: Read nutrition labels; most food and drinks have more caffeine than believed. Some foods, like chocolate, contain caffeine but it isn’t listed.
RX, TOO: Be mindful of over-the-counter medications, like pain killers, that contain caffeine.
ONE LESS: Cut back gradually by drinking one fewer caffeinated beverage per day or avoiding drinks late in the day.
SWITCH TO DECAF: Decaffeinated options can look and taste the same as caffeinated drinks.
STEEP LESS: Shorten brew time to cut down on caffeine or drink herbal teas that aren’t caffeinated.
How much is too much caffeine?
The Mayo Clinic recommends adults consume caffeine in moderate doses, such as two to four cups of brewed coffee per day, or 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine. Consuming more than four cups, or 500 to 600 milligrams, can cause unpleasant side effects, such as:
• Stomach upset
• Fast heartbeat
• Muscle tremors
Visit www.caffeineawareness.org for a caffeine calculator that helps track how much caffeine you consume on a daily basis.