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Health Effects of Caffeine on the Body

 

Anxiety and Depression

This week a visitor named Ken is curious about the health effects of caffeine on the body. So read on to explore the interesting world of caffeine addiction and other surprising facts.

Dear Cynthia,

I have heard many comments about the effects of caffeine on a person. Could you give me the real fact about it’s effects? I am a big coffee drinker. Thank you very much for your help and advice. Sincerely, Ken

Great question, Ken, here’s the scoop, but I’m sorry to say you’ll probably be disappointed.

Caffeine is one of the most socially accepted and widely used stimulant drugs in our society. It is an addictive, mind altering substance that impacts the brain and body in a similar manner as hard drugs like amphetamines, cocaine and heroin and has a variety of detrimental effects on our health. In nature it is found in a variety of plants where it works as a natural pesticide by paralyzing the insects that feed upon the plant.

Caffeine fits the criteria of an addictive drug for four reasons:

  1. It is used compulsively by the user
  2. It stimulates neurotransmitters in the brain in the same manner as harder drugs
  3. It results in building tolerance
  4. After continued use, the user becomes dependent on caffeine to function normally
  5. The user experiences withdrawal when they try to give up caffeine

These four criteria are what define an addictive substance and caffeine fulfills them all. This cycle can lead to addiction to other drugs, or for the person who is in recovery from other addictions, such as alcoholism or harder drugs, it can lead to relapse as it simulates the physiological process of addiction in the brain.

Caffeine works by altering a chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain that makes you sleepy called adenosine. Because the caffeine molecule and the adenosine molecule look very much alike, it confuses your brain and when you drink caffeine, then the brain takes in the caffeine molecule instead of the adenosine molecule and this is what keeps you from falling asleep and feeling tired. When you drink caffeine, it floods the brain with adenosine imposters, which blocks adenosine’s ability to do its job.

Additionally, caffeine also causes artificial and excessive stimulation of other neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine and glutamate and this is what gives the caffeine user heightened mood, euphoria and clearer thinking. It decreases production of serotonin and interferes with normal functioning of GABA. Disruption of these crucial neurotransmitters results in symptoms like depression, hyperactivity, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety attacks, inability to handle stress, addiction to harder substance and many more.

The brain adapts to the excessive stimulation of caffeine by reducing it’s receptors, which means that you now need more caffeine to achieve the same results. This is known as tolerance. As caffeine consumption continues, eventually the brain will no longer function normally without caffeine and the user is now addicted.

Other serious health effects of caffeine on the body is that it has a very destructive effect on the bodies stress response system because it increases the release of our stress hormones, adrenalin, norepinephrine, and cortisol. When we’re dealing with a dangerous, threatening or emergency situation, stress hormones are needed to give us extra strength, energy and alertness to get us through the situation. Then when the stressful situation is over then the stress hormones subside. However, when drinking caffeine, there is no threatening situation to deal with and it triggers these hormones for no reason continuously and keeps the body in a constant state of stress. This puts an excessive burden on the adrenal glands that can lead to adrenal fatigue. With adrenal fatigue, the adrenal glands are no longer capable of performing their functions adequately and results in a variety of negative symptoms and conditions like chronic fatigue, irritability, inability to cope with stress, allergies, difficulty sleeping and hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar occurs when the bodies glucose levels drop too low and results in a variety of symptoms like irritability, fatigue, headaches, depression, anxiety, cravings for sugar, weakness, inability to concentrate, shaking and trembling. Caffeine contributes to hypoglycemia because it triggers the liver to release high levels of glycogen (sugar) into the blood stream. High levels of sugar trigger the release of insulin to control sugar levels and cause the blood sugar levels to plummet to below normal.

Furthermore, the fact that caffeine puts the body in a state of chronic stress depletes neurotransmitters even more, because neurotransmitters are needed to modulate the stress response system. If there is chronic stress, neurotransmitters will be drained out dealing with it. The demand will exceed the supply.

Caffeine is also a major instigator and perpetuator in the overgrowth of Candida yeast because it triggers the liver to dump large levels of glycogen (sugar) into the blood stream, which will feed the yeast and perpetuate cravings for sugar and high carbohydrate foods. It is impossible to make significant improvement in reducing symptoms of Candida overgrowth or overcome sugar or carb cravings, if one continues to ingest caffeine. To learn more about the caffeine and sugar connection, you can find an in depth discussion about this issue in my book, How to Break Your Sugar Addiction Today.

All the aforementioned issues have a destructive impact on the sleep cycle. You won’t be able to sleep, or when you do, it won’t be deep and healing. Adequate sleep is crucial for overall good health and functioning. Caffeine also aggravates or contributes to conditions like hormonal imbalances, depression, anxiety disorders, headaches, PMS and is linked to other conditions like diabetes, heart disease, food cravings, addiction and weight gain.

Additionally, caffeine increases heart rate, blood sugar levels and blood pressure, which makes it a bad idea for people with high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes and can trigger a wide variety of other symptoms like nervousness, irritability, anxiety, muscle tremors, upset stomach, headaches, frequent urination,  irregular heartbeat and much more.

Proponents of caffeine like to boast about the so called “health benefits” of caffeine, but I would say that the negative effects far outweigh the positives. We can find health benefits within many things that are not healthy, that doesn’t mean they should be consumed. When determining whether something is really healthy or not, we must look at the overall picture, not just a few aspects.

The bottom line is that caffeine is a destructive addictive drug that should be avoided. That means avoiding all products that contain caffeine like coffee, chocolate, tea, soda pop — Coke, Diet Coke, Pepsi, etc., and green tea. It’s also important to note, that many products that call themselves, “caffeine free” actually still contain caffeine in smaller amounts, that will still have the same negative results. There is no such thing as “caffeine-free coffee.” It’s just a lesser amount and any amount will perpetuate the addiction cycle.

The health effects of caffeine on the body are serious and many. For anyone living with a chronic health condition, it will only lead to continued decline in health and exacerbation of existing symptoms. For healthier individuals, it can lead to addiction, adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue, weight gain and the development of chronic health problems.

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • SLOVERRY January 7, 2009, 11:26 am

    wow ! this is so helpful to me. explains so much that has been happening to me. i have a running addiction to sugar and caffeine and i am a wreck thanks for this powerful information.

  • Admin - Cynthia Perkins January 14, 2009, 10:07 am

    You’re welcome Sloverry. Yes, sugar addiction and caffeine addiction perpetuate one another. You must give both of them up in order to succeed at one.

  • merry christmas December 15, 2013, 6:35 pm

    Really helpfull article. I’ve always felt there was something wrong with my compulsory daily cup of coffee. Where is my incredible self confidence and energy from my younger years? Sucked out by the caffeine perhaps.

  • Lillian Richards April 28, 2015, 11:26 am

    Very helpful for my husband who drinks at least 4 cups a day, smokes and has diabetes

  • matt July 16, 2017, 6:58 am

    I guess I need to quit the caffeine. I probably take in an average of 600 mg of caffeine a day. I am irritable. I do have trouble sleeping. Tired most of the time. Fight depression often.

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