Should you kick your caffeine habit?
The most popular caffeine-containing in the United States is coffee. Americans drink more than a half billion cups of coffee daily, with most coffee drinkers consuming at least two cups. In addition to appreciating coffee´s flavor and aroma, coffee drinkers say that it makes them feel more energetic and alert. The caffeine in coffee improves muscular coordination, thus facilitating work activities such as typing, and it may improve memory and reasoning. For people with tight airways, it open breathing passages. It is also a mild diuretic. Caffeine, in short, is a natural stimulant. And other foods and beverages -chocolate, tea, and cola, for example- contain caffeine. Thus, even if you aren´t a coffee drinker, you probably consume more caffeine than you realize.
Does caffeine cause health problems?
During the past two decades, extensive research has been conducted on possible links between caffeine use and health problems. The results have been mixed. For every study that implicates caffeine as a possible health risk, another finds no connection. For example, coffee consumption had been linked to increased risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack, but a 1996 study found that when researchers adjusted for cigarette smoking among coffee drinkers, the link disappeared (Mayo Clinic 1997).
This is not to say that caffeine is entirely harmless. Even a couple of cups of coffee can make you nervous, anxious, and irritable. It can produce heartburn and irritate existing ulcers, and it causes bladder irritation in some people. It can also cause a temporary rise in blood pressure.
Who is most likely to be affected by caffeine?
Any health problems related to caffeine consumption are usually found only in people who drink large quantities of coffee -eight or more cups a day (Mayo Clinic 1997). Thus, the effects of caffeine on an individual depend on the amount consumed, the frequency of consumption, the individual´s metabolism, and the individual´s sensitivity to caffeine.
Is caffeine addictive?
Some people say that they are "addicted" to coffee because they feel unable to start the day without it. What they really mean is that they depend on caffeine's stimulant effects to get them going. It has been suggested that dependence on caffeine is similar to dependence on alcohol or tobacco. The mayor evidence for this is that halting caffeine consumption abruptly can cause withdrawal symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and depression. It is also true that regular consumption leads to a tolerance for many of the effects of caffeine. However, caffeine consumption patterns differ from those assosiated with serious drug dependence: Caffeine use does not result in a craving for ever-higher doses, and it is not very difficult to stop consuming. And most consumers of caffeine do not exhibit the compulsive behavior characteristic of those dependent on illicit drugs. According to the World Health Organization, "There is no evidence whatsoever that caffeine use has even remotely comparable physical and social consequences [compared to those] assosiated with serious drugs of abuse" (quoted in IFIC, 1998).
Should you try to kick your caffeine habit?
If you are particularly sensitive to caffeine or have been consuming it in large quantities, you maybe experiencing side effects such as exessive nervousness -"coffee nerves"- and insomnia. If so, you may wish to cut back on or eliminate caffeine. This does not mean that you have to suffer withdrawal symptoms. Experts agree that this can be avoided by tapering offyour consumption gradually -the slower the tapering, the easier the withdrawal. While you are cutting back, decaffeinated coffee, tea, and soft drinks can provide the flavor you're used to without the stimulant effects. Finally, if you're not trying to eliminate caffeine altogether, consider avoiding it for 3 days every 2 or 3 weeks to give your body a rest from the continual stimulation.
Read in: The World of Psychology p. 150