Caffeine – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

It’s 7 a.m. The coffee is perking away. The aroma wafts throughout your house. Ah, that first cup tastes soooooo good! The coffee slides down your throat, hits your stomach and is absorbed into your bloodstream.You feel the affects of the caffeine quickly.

The Good

Within an hour the caffeine concentration in your blood reaches its peak. The effects of that cup will last for four to six hours, unless you smoke, which causes caffeine to clear the bloodstream in half the time. Many who take medications tell me they just can’t get going in the morning without some caffeine. That’s pretty much the standard reaction.

We use coffee and its caffeine content to jump start our day. Nothing wrong with that. This is the way millions begin their day throughout the world. Why? Because it works. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. In moderation, it increases alertness. It helps perk you up if you’re not a morning person, and when medications contribute to your grogginess. So why do people want you to cut back on your caffeine?

The Bad

Too much is not a good thing. Caffeine can be toxic. It can make you jumpy, irritable, anxious, and nervous. It can also cause gastro-intestinal problems, heart palpitations, and arrhythmias. Heartburn can be aggravated by caffeine. Schizophrenia, and/or the medications you take can cause these symptoms, too. No need to increase any uncomfortable side effects by consuming too much caffeine.

Another concern is the diuretic effect of caffeine (meaning it increases urine output and dehydrates your body). Some antipsy-chotic medicines can cause you to be thirsty because they change the body’s water balance. This is called an anticholingeric effect. These two effects add together to increase your desire to drink beverages. Sodas, which are high in sugar and caffeine, and coffee can not restore water balance. Water is the best beverage.

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Caffeine also interferes with calcium absorption. This is of special concern to women who are more apt to suffer from osteoporosis – thinning of the bones. Plus, caffeine beverages often replace milk in the diet, contributing to low calcium intake. One way to offset this calcium loss is to put at least two tablespoons of milk (not cream) in your coffee.

The Ugly

Caffeine interferes with sleep. It stimulates the central nervous system, which affects your sleep patterns. When caffeine is given to non-caffeine drinkers, they experience trouble getting to sleep, less sleep time, and lower sleep quality. Lack of sleep can aggravate psychosis. You need a good night’s sleep for mental and physical well-being. Anything that interferes needs to be corrected.

How Much Is Too Much?

For most people the equivalent of two cups of coffee per day is the limit. That’s not quite 300 mg of caffeine. Of course coffee is not the only source of caffeine. We have to talk about soda. Those of you who have been reading along and feeling a little smug because you don’t drink coffee must now own up to the number of sodas you drink each day.

A can of cola has about 45 mg of caffeine. This can add up. I have friends and relatives who easily drink a two-liter bottle of soda a day. Almost 75 percent of soft drinks contain some caffeine. It’s quite easy to drink a lot of beverages high in caffeine and calories without realizing how it adds up.

Today there are many drinks sold for their high-caffeine content which can be as much as 125 mg per can. Also, soda doesn’t have to be dark to have caffeine. Color isn’t an indicator of caffeine content. Check the label.

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There are other foods and some over-the-counter medications that have caffeine, as well. Chocolate milk has two to seven milligrams of caffeine, and milk chocolate candy has anywhere from 5 to 35 milligrams. Anacin, Excedrin, and Nodoz all have caffeine. Read labels carefully. One dose may contain as much caffeine as one or two cups of coffee. Tea also has caffeine; even green tea. The amount varies greatly with each brand and how long you steep the bag or leaves.

Now, take our little poll to see if you are drinking too much coffee and soda. Then, add tea, chocolate, and medications to the amount of coffee/soda you consume. Is it too much? Do you need to cut back to improve your health? The answer for most of us is, probably, yes.

Check Your Caffeine Intake

Take this poll to see if you might be getting too much caffeine in your drinks.

How many cups of coffee (not decaf) do you drink each day?

  • 0 None
  • 1 cup
  • 2 cups
  • 3 cups
  • 4 cups


How many cans of soda do you drink each day ?

  • 0 None
  • 1 can (12 oz)
  • 2 cans (24 oz)
  • 3 cans (1 liter)
  • 4 cans (48 oz)
  • 5 or more cans (60 oz)

If together you drink more than three cups of caffeinated beverages, your cup overflows, you have passed from a moderate to heavy-caffeine consumer.

Slow is important. Caffeine withdrawal can be very unpleasant. You can expect headaches, fatigue, depression, irritability, and, in some cases, muscle pain, stiffness, nausea, and vomiting. Usually these symptoms are gone within 48 hours, but could last a week. Begin by eliminating caffeine beverages after 3 p.m. Substitute water or club soda flavored with juice for your afternoon soda. In the morning, begin by adding skim or low-fat milk to your coffee. This decreases the caffeine content and increases the nutrient content. Some people have success mixing a half-cup of regular coffee with a half-cup of decaf.

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My recommendation: Enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning and/or a soda during the day, but try not to exceed that amount. If you feel sluggish, take a walk instead of resorting to caffeine. Physical exercise can restore you to alertness, and it will also help you get a good night’s sleep.

It’s your body, take good care of it!