With Caffeine Use Disorder a reality among us, Mirror looks at the worrying effect of coffee hits
A recent study claims that caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the world, and found in everything from coffee, tea, and soda, to pain relievers and chocolate. Most people are dependent on it to the point that they suffer withdrawal symptoms, said the new research conducted by American University psychology professor Laura Juliano.
“Many people can consume caffeine without harm, but for some it produces negative effects, physical dependence, interferes with functioning and can be difficult to give up — which are all signs of problematic use,” he said.
Research has found that when people don’t get their usual caffeine dose they can suffer a range of nasty symptoms, including shakes, headaches, mood swings and fatigue — even flu-like symptoms and nausea. There are fears, our children, too, are becoming hooked on caffeine in the form of energy drinks, sales of which are soaring among youngsters.
Dr Chidi Ngwaba, a lifestyle disease prevention expert, warns, “These (energy drinks) are addictive and packed with sugar. They’re not something children should have access to.”
Why is caffeine so addictive?
Dr Chidi explains, “Caffeine — along with other drugs such as cocaine and nicotine — is particularly addictive because it goes straight to the brain.” It triggers a fast release of the stimulant adrenalin, which makes you feel more alert. It is why we crave coffee so much in the morning.
But while your first tea or coffee may perk you up, studies show beyond this first high you don’t get much more of a kick from further cups. In fact, that first cup doesn’t even boost your work performance. In one study, the typing levels of two groups of secretaries were monitored — one group who had no coffee, the other had up to five cups. While the coffee drinkers typed faster, they made 10 times as many mistakes.
Furthermore, when a caffeine buzz wears off, you end up feeling twice as tired as you were before. Dr Chidi says, “This is because brain chemistry doesn’t like being interfered with by taking stimulants, so it releases chemicals that dampen the alert response. This lowers energy levels and mood, so you feel like another coffee.”
A danger to your heart
Addiction isn’t the only worry from too much coffee. “It’s well-established that caffeine increases blood pressure,” says Dr Chidi. “In fact, if you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, there’s almost no point taking medication if you’re going to be drinking tea or coffee as it cancels out the lowering effects of the drug, putting you at higher risk of heart attack or stroke.”
Are there any benefits?
Confusingly, for all the negative effects of drinking caffeinated drinks, there are studies that say that it is beneficial. A study found tea and coffee drinking may reduce the risk of developing diabetes, certain cancers and Parkinson’s disease. So what’s the truth? Experts point out none of the suggested benefits are likely to be down to affeine, but rather the antioxidants the drinks contain — these are natural disease-fighting compounds that lower inflammation.
Inflammation has been linked to conditions including heart disease and cancer, so antioxidants consumed in tea and coffee may reduce the risk of developing these diseases. But these potential benefits have to be weighed up with its negative effects.
Is decaf a good alternative?
Issues of taste aside, switching to a decaffeinated cuppa seems like a good compromise and, on the plus side, there are similar levels of antioxidants to be found in decaf tea and coffee. However, pay close attention to the label. Dr Chidi says, “The solvents used in the decaffeination process may be dangerous. Look for tea and coffee that has been decaffeinated using carbon dioxide, which doesn’t have the same risks.”