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Caffeine Blues: Ten Ways Caffeine Harms Your Health and How To Kick The Habit

May 23, 2008
Caffeine is considered the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world. It is estimated that approximately 80% of the world's population consumes caffeine on a daily basis. The most common dietary sources of caffeine are coffee, soda, tea, and chocolate. After ingesting caffeine, it is completely absorbed within 30 to 45 minutes and then its effects diminish within about three hours. As many caffeine drinkers can attest, when you ingest high levels of caffeine, you may feel your mood soar and then plummet, leaving you craving more caffeine to make it soar again. While caffeine is eventually excreted so there is no accumulation in the body, it has been shown to adversely affect mood, stamina, stress levels, the cardiovascular system, and gastric health, to name a few.

10 Consequences of Caffeine Consumption

1. Caffeine is highly addictive. Like other drugs, caffeine causes a chemical addiction within the brain. Quitting coffee or soda can create withdrawal symptoms - headaches, sleepiness, irritability, anxiety - while the brain's chemistry readjusts.

2. Caffeine exacerbates mood disorders in adults and children. Mood disturbances such as anxiety, depression, irritability, and attention disorders are aggravated by chronic caffeine consumption. Rather than increasing mental activity as many caffeine drinkers believe, caffeine actually decreases blood flow to the brain by as much as 30% and negatively impacts memory and mental performance. Mood disturbances may appear after the stimulant effect of caffeine wears off - often about three hours later prompting many to consume more caffeine - and they may also appear during the recovery period after quitting caffeine.

3. Caffeine increases stress. Caffeine stimulates the secretion of stress hormones - cortisol (adrenaline) from the adrenal glands - which can increase levels of anxiety, irritability, muscular tension, indigestion, insomnia, and decreased immunity. Continued stimulation of the adrenal glands can ultimately lead to adrenal exhaustion, which leaves a person vulnerable to a variety of health problems including autoimmune and inflammatory disorders. Because of chronically increased stress hormone levels, caffeine consumption can render some incapable of making healthy responses to the stressful situations that occur in their daily lives.

4. Caffeine accelerates bone loss. Caffeine causes the urinary excretion of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and trace minerals, which can lead to osteoporosis.

5. Caffeine contributes to blood sugar problems. Caffeine stimulates a temporary surge in blood sugar creating a quick burst of energy; however, increased blood sugar triggers an insulin spike, which ultimately causes a sugar crash within hours. This blood sugar rollercoaster can contribute to diabetes, hypoglycemia, and weight gain because insulin triggers the body to store excess sugar as fat.

6. Caffeine affects your heart's health. Because caffeine acts as a stimulant, it increases pulse and blood pressure. It also contributes to the development of heart disease because caffeine increases cholesterol levels as well as a chemical called homocysteine, which has been linked to heart attacks.

7. Caffeine affects your stomach acid. Caffeine causes your stomach to produce extra hydrochloric acid (HCL), which creates an increased risk for ulcers, heartburn, and gastro-esophageal reflux.

8. Caffeine accelerates aging. Caffeine contributes to the decline in production of hormones produced in abundance during youth - DHEA, melatonin, and others - which speeds the aging process. Because caffeine dehydrates the body, skin loses water from its cells, causing wrinkling and sagging.

9. Caffeine affects normal sleep patterns. Because it is a stimulant, caffeine keeps you awake longer, thereby shortening the amount and the quality of sleep each night, which takes a toll on your level of alertness the next day and overall health. Because of sleep deprivation and fatigue, a person might look to caffeine for a boost, thereby perpetuating the vicious cycle.

10. Caffeine increases the risk for male and female health problems. Studies show that caffeine increases the risk for prostate and urinary problems in men. In women, fibrocystic breast disease, PMS, osteoporosis, infertility problems, miscarriage, low birth weight infants, and menopausal problems such as hot flashes are aggravated by caffeine.

Kick the Caffeine Habit

Weaning yourself off of caffeine requires patience and perseverance, just like detoxifying from any other drug addiction. While some people can successfully quit by eliminating caffeine all at once, most people will need to gradually reduce the amount of caffeine they consume in order to minimize suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

* Here is an example of a gradual schedule: 3 cups of coffee or soda per day in the first week; 2 per day during the second; 1 during the third; and none during the fourth.

*Another strategy is to gradually replace coffee with decaf: During the first week, when you make your coffee, use 3/4 regular and 1/4 decaf; the second week, use 1/2 and 1/2; the third week, use 1/4 regular and 3/4 decaf; the fourth week, you're drinking decaf!

* If you are a soda drinker, you can gradually replace your soda with sparkling water and/or caffeine-free soda.

* Whatever strategy you choose, it is important to drink plenty of water and to get plenty of sleep to assist with the detoxification process.

Because caffeine consumption is so commonplace, it is easy to become complacent about the potential health hazards. However, given the mounting research, it is important to 'wake up' to the hidden dangers your morning coffee creates. Make a positive choice for your health and kick the caffeine habit today!
About the Author
For more health tips and published research with vertigo, migraine, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson's disease patients by Dr. Erin Elster, D.C., upper cervical chiropractor, in Boulder, Colorado, visit her website www.erinelster.com.
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