Caffeine has become the drug of choice for many

The lowdown on caffeine

Caffeine is one of the most popular and widely used drugs in the world. It is also one of the most abused and addictive drugs.

Caffeine is widely available in beverages like coffee and tea and a variety of over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements. It is the drug of choice for millions who regularly consume the beverage in the morning or throughout the day. Tea drinkers who drink black and green tea also regularly consume a dose of caffeine.

Problems with excess caffeine consumption include anxiety, irritability, anger, bladder irritation, breast tenderness, irritable bowel symptoms, diarrhea, heart palpitations, stomach irritation, heartburn, high blood pressure, hypoglycemia, insomnia, muscle spasms, ringing in the ears and tremors in the hands.

Caffeine is a small nitrogen containing molecule that belong to a group of compounds called methylxanthines. It is found naturally in coffee, black and green tea, chocolate and several other plants. It is also added to a variety of over-the-counter medicines for pain relief, decongestants and stimulant products for wakefulness and weight loss. Caffeine is also widely available in natural herbal products for energy, delay fatigue, increase endurance and to increase metabolism.

Caffeine is a central nervous stimulant. In low to moderate doses, it can cause mild cortical arousal with increased alertness and deferral of fatigue. It can also cause behavioural changes, restlessness, nervousness, insomnia and anxiety. In sensitive individuals, even a few sips of a caffeinated beverage can cause nervousness and insomnia. Very high doses of caffeine can cause convulsions, seizures and breathing problems.

Caffeine is a mild metabolic stimulant. It can increase blood fat levels, increase and then decrease blood sugar levels, contribute to dehydration and deplete the body of minerals and water-soluble vitamins. It can increase heart rate, increase blood pressure, induce heart palpitations, decrease blood flow to the brain and extremities like the hands and feet.

Caffeine can stimulate hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, increase enzyme production in the pancreas and increase the flow of bile from the liver and gall bladder. It can also increase muscle contractions in the intestines and bowels. In some people it can cause nausea, heartburn, intestinal spasms and diarrhea.

Caffeine is a diuretic for the kidneys and bladder and increases the flow of urine. For some individuals this can lead to bladder and urethral irritation. It also increases sweat gland activity throughout the body and can stimulate activity in modified sweat glands of the breast tissue in females. That can lead to tender breasts and fibrocystic breast disease.

Excess caffeine consumption can decrease immune function, decrease thymus gland size and decrease antibody levels.

Caffeine can cause smooth muscle relaxation in the bronchi of the lungs and both small and large intestine. That can relax bronchi and improve air flow and may help some individuals with asthma and bronchoconstriction. It can also increase skeletal muscle contraction and delay muscle fatigue during athletic endeavours.

Caffeine, in low to moderate doses, is generally considered to be safe during pregnancy and while nursing but is known to cross the placental barrier. Caffeine consumption by the mother can contribute to irritability, colic and insomnia in nursing infants.

But not all effects of caffeine are bad. There are many beneficial effects too. Caffeine is widely used to increase brain activity, prevent fatigue, increase endurance, delay the onset of sleep, act as a mild decongestant in those with allergies, improve lung flow in asthmatics and other lung problems, increase bile flow and help the liver and pancreas, increase bowel contractions and improve constipation.

One regular cup of coffee contains 100 to 180 milligrams of caffeine. The same amount of decaffeinated coffee contains about two to five milligrams. One cup of black tea or green contains 40 to 100 milligrams while a cup of iced tea can contain 60 to 100 milligrams.

A cup of hot chocolate contains five to 25 milligrams of caffeine while a cup of Coca cola or Pepsi contains 40 to 60 milligrams. One tablet of Excedrin contains 65 milligrams of caffeine and one tablet of Midol contains 32 milligrams.

The way you metabolize caffeine is indicative of your phase 1 detoxification pathway in the liver. Some people metabolize and break down caffeine rather quickly. That indicates they have “upregulated” phase 1 detoxification activity in the liver. They can drink more caffeine than normal without ill effects and have no trouble fallings asleep after consuming coffee before bedtime.

Other people are slow metabolizers and breakdown caffeine rather slowly. They are usually more sensitive to caffeine and cannot drink any caffeinated beverage before bedtime.

Caffeine can be a good in low to moderate doses for some individuals and a bad in moderate to high doses in others.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Doug Lobay is a practicing naturopathic physician in Kelowna, British Columbia.

He graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the University of British Columbia in 1987 and then attended Bastyr College of Natural Health Sciences in Seattle, Washington, where graduated with a doctorate in naturopathic medicine degree in 1991. While attending Bastyr College, he began to research the scientific basis of naturopathic medicine. 

He was surprised to find many of the current major medical journals abounded with scientific information on the use of diet, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal medicines.

Doug is a member of the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia and has practiced as naturopathic family physician for more than 30 years.  He maintains a busy practice in Kelowna where he sees a wide age range of patients with various ailments.

He focuses on dietary modification, allergy testing, nutritional assessments, supplement recommendation for optimal health, various physical therapy modalities, various intravenous therapies including chelation therapy.

An avid writer, he has written seven books on various aspects of naturopathic medicine that are available on Amazon and was also a long-time medical contributor to the Townsend Letter journal for doctors and patients, where many of his articles are available to view on-line. He has also given numerous lectures, talks and has taught various courses on natural medicine.

Doug enjoys research, writing and teaching others about the virtues of natural health and good nutrition. When not working, he enjoys cycling, hiking, hockey, skiing, swimming, tennis and playing guitar.

If you have any further questions or comments, you can contact Dr. Lobay at 250-860-7622 or [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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