Sometimes caffeine can do more harm than good — even if it’s ingrained in your morning routine. Even if you’re not noticing some of the negative side effects — or you don’t realize you are, anyway — it might be a good idea to give up that daily cup (or six) of liquid energy.
Before we go any further, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what caffeine actually is. Caffeine is a stimulant, and is described by WebMD in the same manner that any drug is. “Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system, heart, muscles, and the centers that control blood pressure,” the site explains.
Even if you didn’t know exactly how caffeine works or which areas of your body it targets, you’ve definitely noticed its effects. If you’re a regular coffee drinker, you don’t start your day without a mug or Starbucks cup in your hand. Or maybe coffee’s not really your thing, but drinking a Big Gulp’s worth of Coke throughout the day is. Whatever your choice, getting your daily dose of caffeine makes you less groggy in the morning, gives you a boost at lunch, and helps your power through that late-afternoon presentation. But as with any drug — legal or not — there’s plenty of other side effects that aren’t nearly so beneficial.
We won’t try convincing you die-hards right away — we know it’s a losing battle. But maybe it’ll convince you to start weaning yourself off that fourth cup of coffee each day. And if you’ve already considered going cold turkey, take a look at why it might not be such a bad idea.
1. Caffeine can increase your stress levels
A busy day at the office can increase your anxiety, but so can the caffeine you depend on to get you through. Caffeine increases your blood pressure and also multiplies the stress hormones in your body (one form is catecholamines), making your body physically more stressed. However, a Duke University study found that the presence of caffeine also amplifies the stress of other factors, such as what’s going on at work.
“The caffeine we drink enhances the effects of the stresses we experience, so if we have a stressful job, drinking coffee makes our body respond more to the ordinary stresses we experience,” said James D. Lane, the lead author of the study. “Everyone accepts that stress can be unhealthy. Our results suggest that drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks can make stress even more unhealthy.”
2. It messes with your nervous system
The main area in the body that caffeine affects is your central nervous system. But because caffeine is an additive to the body’s natural cycles, it ends up interrupting the natural flow of what’s going on. Caffeine is able to block receptors in the brain that monitor adenosine, a neurochemical that naturally builds up throughout the day and makes us sleepy. By the time you’re ready to go to bed, your brain’s adenosine tab is high, and your central nervous system puts you to sleep.
When caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors, natural stimulants in the brain like dopamine and glutamine are able to work more, keeping you more alert after your first sips of coffee. The problem is that you might be able to to trick your nervous system for a while, evading sleep when your brain says you need it. But eventually it’ll catch up, and you’ll crash — hard.
3. Tolerance is a pain
In order to keep tricking your nervous system into thinking you’re not tired, you have to put more and more caffeine into your body. It’s that aggravating reality called tolerance, and it works the same for just about any drug — caffeine included. What started as one 8-ounce cup of coffee in the morning turned into two, which turned into the 24-ounce option at your local Starbucks or gas station before arriving at work.
Tolerance exacerbates all of the issues related to caffeine use, because you’re dosing your body with more and more of it in order to stay functional. Otherwise, you’ll start to deal with the withdrawal effects of headaches, fatigue, and general lousiness that caffeine addicts will do anything to avoid. The good news? If you decide you’ve had enough of being addicted, Forbes estimates it only takes about 10 days to be withdrawal-free. It won’t be a fun week, but it might beat buying that fifth cup of coffee.
4. It’s a serious drain on your wallet
Even if you do your best to bring your caffeine from home to save money, the dollars here and there can add up. And when you run out of your own supply and need to bring in the reinforcements, the money spent on caffeine becomes substantial. When that 2 p.m. caffeine headache starts, you’ll do anything to make it go away — even if a $5 latte from Starbucks is your only option. It’s not uncommon to spend $50 per week on coffee or other caffeinated beverages.
Caffeine Informer did the math, and it’s likely that your energy drinks, soda, and coffee is costing you between $1,000 and $1,300 per year — and that’s just if you stick to buying one cup per day. If you consistently brew your own coffee at home, it’s much friendlier for your wallet. But if you’re mimicking the style and flavors of your favorite coffee shop, you still face some other issues.
5. You’re probably gaining weight
Unless you always drink your coffee black, caffeine is one of the fastest gateways to a bigger gut. Just one regular-sized latte, soda, or energy drink will normally run you about 250 calories. If you’re drinking any of those more than twice a day, you’re already approaching half of the daily recommended calories you’re supposed to have. While that alone is a problem, the sugar content in most of the drinks is a bigger concern.
Plus, a study released in early 2015 found that when people drank sugary beverages with caffeine in them, the presence of caffeine made them more likely to consume more of the drinks. To reduce the rise of obesity, the study’s authors suggested limiting the amount of caffeine that is put into sugary beverages.
6. It can worsen depression
Caffeine probably won’t cause depression in people who don’t already struggle with it. But it can make it worse for people who already have depressive tendencies, the Mayo Clinic suggests.
It’s not necessarily because of the caffeine itself, but because of the effects the drug has on the body. “Caffeine can cause sleep problems that affect mood,” the clinic reports. “Caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Lack of sleep can worsen depression.”
A word of caution, however: stopping the use of caffeine suddenly can also worsen depression, at least in the few days until your body adjusts to living without it. “If you have depression, consider limiting or avoiding caffeine to see if it helps improve your mood. To lessen these withdrawal effects, gradually reduce the amount of caffeinated beverages you drink,” the clinic suggests.
7. You’re at a greater risk for other health issues
If your weight isn’t a problem and you don’t get headaches enough to warrant reevaluating your caffeine use, you still might be at risk for other health issues. If you sing, for example, large amounts of caffeine might harm your voice quality. You also have a greater chance of getting heartburn or acid reflux if caffeine is a major staple of your diet. Caffeine relaxes the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach that keeps stomach acid from flowing upward. When that stops working effectively, you’re more likely to experience heartburn. On top of that, coffee is naturally acidic and will likely make the problem even worse.
What’s more, you also put yourself at a greater risk for diabetes. The sugar content of most caffeinated drinks alone could do this, but caffeine can also cause insulin sensitivity, which makes it harder for your body to naturally regulate your blood sugar.
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