By: Nicole Chedraoui
When you think of drugs, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Perhaps it’s weed, cocaine, or even alcohol. Surely the last thing to come to mind is a standard cup of coffee. Before the last couple of weeks, I too was an avid caffeine consumer. I thrived on the energy sweet teas, iced coffees, and Yerba Mates gave me. It wasn’t until I experienced the worst caffeine withdrawal of my life that I had the thought: this cannot be good for me. Mood swings, killer migraines, blurred vision, all just because I skipped my afternoon Peace Tea? I knew I had to do some more digging. This is what I found.
According to the dictionary, the definition of a drug is classified as:
a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body
While caffeine differs from other drugs given its vast availability to the public, that does not mean it doesn’t fall under the umbrella category of being a drug. According to the FDA, about 80% of all people will consume caffeine in some form throughout the day. While many may think caffeine is just a guilty pleasure that helps them get through their day, they may be unaware of what other physiological impacts this drug has on the central nervous system. Before I get into all of the negative impacts of caffeine use, I must preface this information with some important health suggestions from the FDA. According to a variety of studies, caffeine provides no nutritional value on its own. However, Mayo Clinic found research suggesting that consuming up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is entirely safe for a healthy person. Any more than this amount of caffeine is deemed unhealthy for the human body and may lead to a plethora of symptoms.
Anxiety and Confusion
This symptom is funny to me because normally we drink coffee in order to reduce our confusion and increase our ability to stay awake during the day; however, I guess we’re doing quite the opposite. It’s no secret that caffeine makes you more alert. Its job as a stimulant is to keep us awake and focused. However, it also triggers a large amount of adrenaline to be released which, as many of you may know, triggers one’s fight or flight response. This can lead to dangerous bouts of nervousness, stress-related panic attacks, or even paranoia. It’s also important to note that too much caffeine is shown to cause difficulty concentrating as well as brain fog. When consumers exceed 400 mg of caffeine, symptoms of lightheadedness and general confusion were seen to be extremely prominent.
Fertility and Pregnancy Issues
Hopefully this isn’t shocking to most, considering many pregnant women are actively advised to not drink caffeine, but recent studies have confirmed that drinking over 400mg of caffeine a day can result in fertility issues during the second and third trimesters. Additionally, overconsumption of caffeine during pregnancy may cause miscarriage or developmental issues in newborns.
Caffeine in the Bones and Muscles
Drinking too much caffeine is shown to prevent calcium absorption in the bones, which increases your risk of osteoporosis. Because of this, as you get older, your bones may break more easily. Additionally, overdosing on caffeine may cause bothersome and sometimes painful muscle aches and twitches– which trust me– are not fun. In more severe cases, some who drink too much caffeine on a daily basis may have full-blown muscle breakdown. The clinical term for muscle breakdown is Rhabdomyolysis, and, basically, it is a very serious condition in which muscle fibers enter the bloodstream. This can lead to kidney failure and additional failure in other organs.
Coffee is the ultimate laxative and is known to cause an upset stomach even in the strongest of tummies. Caffeine is also proven to cause GERD, an uncomfortable feeling of acid reflux combined with stomach ulcers. Nausea and vomiting are also the most commonly reported impact of too much caffeine.
A detailed study released by Mayo Clinic suggests that caffeine triggers the same chemicals in the brain that cocaine and amphetamines do, which explains why caffeine can be so habit-forming. This is why many psychologically or physically depend on caffeine after building a daily tolerance to it and why so many have such nasty withdrawal symptoms.
High Blood Pressure
Caffeine is known to raise blood pressure due to its stimulatory effect on the nervous system, and the more you drink, the more your blood pressure will be raised. People with elevated blood pressure are furthermore at risk for health complications such as heart attack or stroke.
Rapid Heart Rate
The stimulatory effects of caffeine may make your heart beat faster than normal, and too much caffeine can cause an unhealthy rise in someone’s heart rate. Healthline stated, “In one case study, a woman who took a massive dose of caffeine powder and tablets in an attempted suicide developed a very rapid heart rate, kidney failure and other serious health issues.”
With all of this in mind, this is not to say that caffeine doesn’t have any health benefits; in fact, it actually has a few. When consumed in small, healthy amounts, caffeine’s benefits can outweigh the risks.
Boost Your mood
Have you ever heard someone say, “don’t talk to me before I’ve had my coffee?” This may actually be good advice because it is scientifically proven that caffeine can actually limit signs and symptoms of depression while boosting your mood.
Due to its stimulatory effects on the nervous system, caffeine can actually speed up your metabolism. This is actually why caffeine is commonly added in painkillers such as ibuprofen. Because of this, caffeine can actually help speed up the burning of calories throughout the day, and in turn, promote weight loss.
Improves Exercise Performance
Have you ever seen someone take those caffeine pills before they exercise? Well, it may be helpful to know that if you are consuming 400 mg or less, caffeine can be a healthy way to stimulate the diet fad of “fast as fuel.” These enhancers can help the glucose stored in muscles to last longer, which, in turn, increases endurance and intolerance to fatigue.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking: Nicole, didn’t you just tell us caffeine is bad for your heart? Hear me out; if you are drinking caffeine in small amounts every day, there should be no long-term risk at all for heart damage. As long as you are healthy and consume no more than 400 mg a day, heart palpitations would not be severe, and in 16-18% of men and women, their risk of heart disease actually LOWERS. Too much caffeine can lead to heart attack, while just a little can prevent heart disease–it’s all about your proportions.
Caffeine is a very prominent ingredient in topical skincare creams and products. Just like a cup of coffee in the morning, applying caffeine on your skin will brighten your complexion and make you look more awake and youthful.
So to answer our overall question, is caffeine a drug? Yes! Caffeine is a substance that alters the chemicals of your brain just like any other psychoactive drug, serving as a stimulant and exciting the central nervous system. If you are someone who suffers from any sort of heart or neurological condition, caffeine is absolutely NOT for you. However, if you’re the average person who still wants to drink their daily cup of coffee in the morning, go for it! Just be careful how much you consume. There is no doubt caffeine in large doses can be fatal and caffeine in moderate doses can cause negative impacts, but caffeine in small doses can be entirely beneficial to a healthy person’s daily routine. Remember to please take this unsolicited advice with a grain of salt, for the benefits and drawbacks of caffeine absolutely vary for every person. Finding out the right amount of caffeine that you can personally tolerate is a conversation to have with your healthcare provider, and if you have any questions or concerns about your caffeine consumption, reach out to a medical professional. In the meantime, send this article to your favorite coffee addict and let them know what they’re getting into.