Addicted to Coffee - Can you get through a day without caffeine?
Coffee - nectar of the gods - that rich, heady aroma that gently summons us from sleep on a perfect sunshine-y morning. One coffee company advertises it's brand of coffee as, "The best part of waking up... " We can't start our day it seems, without a fresh, steaming mug of our favorite brew, whether it's a latte, mocha, cappuccino, espresso, double-shot-double-soy-non-fat-no-foam-vente-latte-macciatto, or just straight-up 100% home-perked "joe." I know my day is a bit dull without my morning dose of coffee goodness.
Caffeine is one of the most widely used drugs in North America - some would say, perhaps in the world. Caffeine occurs naturally in coffee berries, tea leaves, and the cocoa beans from which we derive chocolate. Caffeine is added to an ever increasing range of beverages as a mild, or not-so-mild stimulant. What puts the zip in *Zippy Cola? Caffeine - at a whopping 400+ milligrams per liter in some "energy" drinks.
Caffeine is also present in significant amounts in many over-the-counter remedies such as cough and cold medications, diet products, wake-up pills, and common analgesics (pain relieving medications), as well as in candy bars, and many popular soft drinks.
A Very Brief History
Our fascination with caffeinated beverages has its roots in several ancient civilizations. Beloved by many for their stimulant and yet calming effects, these beverages have been in use for centuries around the world, by many cultures in formal, religious, and ceremonial settings long before the Europeans happened upon them.
Some ancient Central and Southern American civilizations so valued the cocoa bean that it was used as currency. The ancient Mayans brewed up their spicy chocolate from cocoa beans, often flavoring it with vanilla, and chili pepper. Mayans and Aztecs consumed their chocolate beverage before ceremonial sporting events, and other royal and religious events. Their priests offered cacao seeds to the gods and served chocolate drinks during sacred ceremonies.
Early travelers to Southeastern Asia and the Orient brought back knowledge of a fragrant, restorative drink that had been enjoyed there for centuries, an infusion made by steeping tea leaves in hot water. Ascribed restorative and medicinal powers, intricate ceremonies have sprung up around brewing tea - such as the formal and beautifully contemplative Japanese Tea Ceremony.
The first European travelers to Arabia found more than spices, Persian carpets, and intricate brass and copper work - they discovered a delicacy in the sweet, hot, and strong brew enjoyed by the locals - coffee.
These beverages were all adopted with alacrity by the European populations. Each country has its own history of tea trade and coffee houses. In Regency England, coffee houses, which also featured tea and chocolate beverages, were popular gathering places for nobility and the wealthy. In the America of the 1950s, the coffee house was also a favorite gathering place of the elite, who came to hear the provocative poetry and songs of political protest penned by its own "beat generation."
Tea Plantations & Tea Garden
What is Caffeine?
Caffeine, also known by the names guaranine, and mateine, is a naturally occurring, psychoactive drug that can be found in varying strengths in the beans, leaves, and fruit of some plants, such as the tea bush, the coffee plant, the cocoa bean, and the kola nut. Other sources include yerba mate, guarana berries, and the Yaupon Holly.
In nature, caffeine acts as a natural pesticide that paralyzes and kills certain insects that feed on the plants. The caffeine in coffee bushes also inhibits the growth of nearby plants, thus ensuring the coffee plant seedling have little competition for space and nutrients.
It is most commonly consumed by humans in infusions of roasted or dried beans of the coffee plant, the leaves of the tea bush, and extracts of the cocoa bean, as well as from a variety of foods and drinks containing products derived from the kola nut.
Effects of Caffeine:
In humans, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, temporarily warding off drowsiness and restoring alertness. Caffeine is the world's most widely consumed psychoactive substance, but, unlike many other psychoactive substances, the inclusion of caffeine in food and beverages is legal and unregulated.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists caffeine as an additive that is "multiple purpose generally recognized as safe food substance."
Caffeine has mild diuretic properties in non-regular users, but regular consumers of caffeine soon develop a strong tolerance for that effect.
Depending on body mass and an individual's unique body chemistry, it can take as little as half an hour for caffeine to begin affecting the body, and a mild dose usually wears off in three to four hours. Consumption of caffeine does not eliminate the need for sleep; it only temporarily reduces the sensation of being tired. Caffeine consumption also temporarily enhances the capability for mental and physical work. Caffeine's effect of increasing alertness is credited with decreasing mistakes made due to tiredness in shift workers.
Despite it's seemingly beneficent nature, caffeine can have some distressing side-effects.
Can a person overdose on caffeine? Yes. Can an adult overdose on caffeine by consuming too much tea, coffee, or chocolate? That is doubtful, unless the adult has had no previous exposure to caffeine. This is not true in the case of a child, though.
As you can see from the chart at the right, caffeine has a wide variety of side effects, ranging from the milder but usual "coffee jitters," common in non-users, and common signs of overuse in regular users, right up to cold sweats, muscle tremors, and heart palpitations.
In pets and small animals, caffeine can be deadly. Even a small piece of chocolate or soft drink can be fatal for a small dog or a cat, and giving your pet even a sip of your energy drink is just begging for a trip to the vet.
We wouldn't dream of exposing our pets to the deleterious effects of caffeine, yet we watch as our children consume gallons of sugary, caffeinated beverages. There is less caffeine in a cup of coffee, yet we refuse to share our coffee with our children, saying, "Oh, no - coffee is bad for you. Only grown-ups can drink coffee."
What were we thinking?
Caffeine for Kids
As you can see from the comparison chart below, that "harmless" glass of soda, or pop, as it is most often called here, carries about a quarter the amount of caffeine as a cup of strong, black coffee.
If your child has a chocolate bar, a ready-to-eat pudding, and a glass or small bottle of cola for a snack, they have just consumed as much caffeine as if they had drunk a cup of strong black coffee - to say nothing of the excess sugar and sodium packed into each serving.
Yet we think nothing of feeding all those empty calories and stimulants to our children each and every day.
Comparison Between Some Well-Known Items
Caffeine per serving (mg)
Caffeine tablet (reg strength)
Hershey' Dark Chocolate
1 bar (43 g)
Milk Chocolate Bar
3 tsp (1Tbsp)
Chocolate pudding (ready-to-eat)
4 oz (1 serving cup)
115 - 175 mg
12 fl oz
12 fl oz
12 fl oz
12 fl oz
12 fl oz
8.2 fl oz
23.5 fl oz
Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are generally more severe where a higher tolerance (or consumption level) has been developed. Symptoms can include severe headache, irritability, inability to concentrate, drowsiness, and insomnia. Pains in the stomach and joint pains are also common withing the first 12 to 24 hours after caffeine use is discontinued. These symptoms usually peak in the first 48 hours, but rarely last beyond the normal 1 to 5 day range. Analgesics, such as A.S.A. or acetaminophen, can be taken to relieve the pain, or a small dose of caffeine.
Though not previously viewed as a harmful drug, caffeine use can create a physical dependency, and its abrupt withdrawal does trigger withdrawal symptoms.
Partly because it has been used so widely as a food additive, the general public has become desensitized to the perils of caffeine consumption. True, no-one has died from caffeine withdrawal, and no-one has ever committed a serious crime to feed their coffee habit, however, researchers are compiling acompelling body of evidence against its widespread use.
Caffeine was introduced at a time when such research was not available, and it continues to be widely used because it has, so far, not caused any proven terrible or lasting effects in studied populations - aside from being a contributing factor in a growing epidemic of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and a burgeoning list of societal plagues and ills which can only add to the already heavy load carried by our increasingly expensive and already over-burdened health care programs and facilities.
Caffeine continues to be added to many products because it is cheap, easy to make, and a guaranteed, non-regulated additive that causes us to buy and use much more of their products.
Money may indeed make the world go around, but hopefully, it won't take some terrible tragedy to final open our eyes to the need for more control over additives and drugs in the products we feed to our children, and put in our own bodies.
Guayaquil, Cocoa Plantation
What can we do?
I have learned to limit my coffee consumption somewhat. A good friend once told me that women, after the age of 40 years, should limit their coffee drinking to two cups a day. "Any more than that, and you are peeing away your bones," she says.
She is referring to studies that have shown that caffeine leaches calcium from your bones. Though other studies have not upheld these results, it is still a popular idea circulating on the internet. I limit my coffee because I have developed a particular palate as far as coffee goes, and I just don't need that much caffeine.
I am one of those fortunate individuals who are not bothered by caffeine, either early in the day, or late at night. I used to mainline coffee while at school, to meet deadlines for class projects, but rarely ended up with coffee jitters. Fortunately, I rarely have to resort to such extremes these days. Should I drink a whole pot of very strong coffee after my evening meal though, I do notice that I take a bit longer to get sleepy.
So where does that leave us possibly-addicted, coffee drinkers, tea drinkers, or cocoa lovers? I don't plan to give up coffee any time soon, nor tea, nor cocoa, for that matter. I do, however, plan to read labels a lot more carefully on everything I buy. I prefer my daily dose of caffeine hot, with two cream, in my coffee cup.
Archival video from 1961 - too much fun!
© 2011 RedElf
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