“Why are you talking to me? I haven’t even had my coffee yet!”
Many can’t imagine attempting to take on the day without their usual Starbucks run or borrowing a pair of wings from a can of Red Bull or any of dozens of other caffeine-soaked energy drinks. In fact, some have been so accustomed to it for so long that the idea that it may not be normal or healthy might seem like complete nonsense. Millions daily drag into work with sagging shoulders commiserating with their co-workers, quite honestly by the way, that they’ve got to get their caffeine. And that is the problem... not the caffeine itself, but our mindset about it. The way we relate to it as though it’s somehow a caffeine deficiency in our diet that’s responsible for the lethargy.
Is Caffeine Really That Big a Deal?
The fact is caffeine is a psychoactive substance. According to Medical News Today, “caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world.” Steven E. Meredith, postdoctoral research fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine told Medical News Today that caffeine is “a drug that crosses the blood-brain barrier to stimulate the central nervous system.”
Such common use does not mean that caffeine is not without it’s negative consequences. The Mayo Clinic states that ingesting more than 500-600 mg of caffeine per day (equivalent to only 1 - 1.5 Starbucks coffees) may lead to:
- Upset stomach
- Fast heartbeat
- Muscle tremors
One study suggested that intakes as low as 300 milligrams of caffeine a day during pregnancy may increase the risk of low birth weight babies. Other studies have indicated that four cups of coffee per day (which can range from 520-720 mg of caffeine) may contribute to risk of early death.
Caffeine Addiction and Withdrawal
If you’re used to using high levels of caffeine and have had occasion to go off it for more than 24 hours you know what that can mean... withdrawal.
Smithsonian.com reports that caffeine withdrawal symptoms typically look like this:
- You begin to feel mentally foggy, lacking alertness.
- Muscles begin to feel fatigued even without strenuous effort.
- A mild irritability sets in.
- Eventually an impossible to ignore headache takes root making concentration on anything even more challenging.
- Muscle fatigue may now give way to muscle pains, nausea and possibly even flu-like symptoms.
Caffeine is addictive for the simple reason that it’s use alters the brain’s chemistry. Under normal conditions as our day progresses adenosine begins to fill brain cell receptors producing a feeling of tiredness. Caffeine is structurally similar enough to adenosine that it takes the place of adenosine in those receptors allowing powerful stimulants such as dopamine and adrenaline to flood our systems.
Stephen R. Braun, author of Buzz: the Science and Lore of Caffeine and Alcohol likens the affect to “putting a block of wood under one of the brain’s primary brake pedals.” and it stays there until the caffeine is metabolized by our system... generally four to six hours later.
Matters are made worse by regular and increased caffeine use as brain cells respond by growing more adenosine receptors which in turn require more and more caffeine to achieve the same desired result.
Some say the addiction can be broken with only 7-12 days without caffeine however, others indicate they have struggled for years attempting to break the addiction by multiple methods with limited success.
Caffeine Content Levels for Common Popular Products
A list of some of the most commonly used caffeine infused products (ordered from highest caffeine content to lowest) can give you an idea of how much caffeine you’re using and whether or not the amounts you’re taking in might be considered safe or risky. (See CaffeineInformer.com for a comprehensive list).
|Caffeine||Content (mg per serving)||Caffeine Level|
|Starbuck’s Coffee Grande||330||Extreme|
|5-Hour Energy||200-215||Very High|
|Cup of home-brewed coffee||163||Very High|
|Monster Energy Drink||160||Very High|
|60% Cacao Ghirardelli Dark chocolate square||14||Very Low|
|Hershey’s Chocolate Bar||9||Very Low|
Healthy Alternatives to Energy Drinks and Coffees
Good, sustainable energy comes from optimal nutrition derived from natural sources. It differs from the artificial, chemical-induced energy highs and crashes in that it provides BOTH a steady, persistent, long-lasting energy AND nutrition rather than a temporary buzz and nutrient deficiency. They provide additional vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other important natural chemical compounds to the body rather than depriving the body of them. This provides the human body a persistent feeling of truly good strength and wellness rather than then short term feeling of being “jacked up” or “wired”. Moreover, good quality ingredients tend to add years to your life instead of robbing them.
Some of the ingredients you want to look for in a quality nutritional energy drink substitute are:
- Alfalfa: provides the entire spectrum of B-vitamins
- Goji Berry: may help maintain healthy blood sugar levels
- Kudzu Root: supports healthy blood circulation
- Green Tea Extract: Has powerful antioxidants and flavonols. It has also been shown to encourage healthy energy levels, contains low levels of naturally derived caffeine.
- Maca Powder: Is an adaptogen which may improve stamina, endurance, energy, and support a healthy mood.
- Yerba Mate: Is believed to promote healthy immunity, stimulate focus and clarity and increase physical energy.
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