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Don’t Be a Jitterbug

Don’t worry, no one is trying to take away your coffee. So, now can we talk about caffeine? This natural stimulant is one of the most commonly used ingredients consumed throughout the world. It has people from both camps, pro and con, going to battle to tout its benefits or its evils. No matter which side you fall on, know the facts for your health.

Alameda Post - cups of coffee

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a natural stimulant derived from the leaves, seeds, or fruit of about sixty species of plants. It is a white, odorless powder with a slightly bitter flavor. The most common sources are coffee beans, tea leaves, cacao, and cola nuts. It is also produced synthetically, and due to the high cost of extracting caffeine from natural sources, when found in foods in which it does not naturally occur. When a product naturally contains caffeine, such as coffee, the Food and Drug Administration does not require it to be listed as an ingredient. That requirement exists only when it is added to a product.

Caffeine stimulates the brain and central nervous system by blocking adenosine receptors in your brain. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that relaxes your brain, making you feel tired. When looking for a pick-me-up, people tend to gravitate to caffeine because its effects are felt rather quickly. Drinking a cup of joe can have you feeling more alert in twenty minutes or less. But do not reach for a can of soda each time your energy goes low. While it is safe for most adults to consume 300-400 milligrams of caffeine, more than that may have negative side effects.

Effects of too much caffeine

Too much caffeine can overstimulate the brain, which could lead to confusion. You might also experience headaches. I’ve had people express that not getting their caffeine fix causes headaches, and irritability also can occur with caffeine withdrawal.

Caffeine can produce a rapid heartbeat, arrhythmia, so limit your intake if you have a pre-existing heart condition. Caffeine also can increase your blood pressure.

Feeling like you have an upset stomach? The acidity in caffeinated drinks can cause heartburn and you may even experience nausea and vomiting. Excessive caffeine may also wreak havoc on your gut health and lead to diarrhea.

While we are discussing what happens in the nether region, caffeine has a diuretic effect on the bladder, increasing your body’s urgency to urinate. Long-term high caffeine consumption can lead to bladder instability.

As you get older, you may want to be especially careful with caffeine as it prevents absorption of calcium, increasing your likelihood of osteoporosis.

For some women, caffeine plays a role in fertility. If you are having difficulty conceiving, discuss with your physician whether caffeine consumption should be adjusted. For all women, caffeine should be limited during pregnancy and even postpartum if breastfeeding, as caffeine passes through breastmilk.

Caffeine could also amplify anxiety or sleep disorders.

Alameda post - a cup of black tea with lemon

Caffeine does have some health benefits

For generally healthy adults, when consumed in low to moderate amounts, caffeine has minimal consequences to your health. As a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certified Personal Trainer, I know that what goes into my body can either fuel my body or deplete it.

“When combined with a carbohydrate source during recovery, caffeine is also shown to improve glycogen repletion, but timing becomes a factor so that it does not negatively impact sleep patterns,” a NASM blog article, Caffeine and Exercise: Benefits for Performance, states.

Your brain’s response to moderate amounts of caffeine may include alertness, therefore relieving drowsiness or fatigue, when sleep may not be an option.

Another positive influence of caffeine may be the reduction in suicide risk. Results of a study, published in the National Library of Medicine, confirmed that two to three cups of coffee a day may reduce the risk of suicide by up to 45%. It is important to keep your quantities in perspective, however. One cup is eight ounces, and many people consume coffee from mugs with a capacity of about twice that much, 16 ounces. A 2020 statistic showed that over 50% of coffee drinkers in the United States consumed their java in a 12 to 16 ounce cup.

Caffeine may have a protective effect against Alzheimer’s and dementia as it may help reduce inflammation around the brain and prevent the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques. However, be aware that those with dementia may experience a worsening of behavioral issues with long-term caffeine consumption.

Other promising results are in the area of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). A study published in the National Library of Medicine states, “At least six large prospective epidemiological studies have firmly established a relationship between increased caffeine consumption and decreased risk of developing PD.”

If your caffeinated beverage of choice is not loaded with sugar and fat, it may also be beneficial to your health when enjoyed in moderation. I’m available to join you for a cup of coffee or tea!

Contributing writer Denise Lum is a Health and Fitness Coach raising her family in Alameda. Contact her via [email protected] or Her writing is collected at

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