caffeine, coffee, caffeine addiction

Is our café society culture and subsequent caffeine dependency “sucking the life” out of us? How much coffee is too much? I’m terribly sorry to put you off your morning espresso with these contentious questions, but the issue of caffeine addiction is a reoccurring one – such as recent talk from TV’s Dr. Oz about how too much caffeine can make us hyperstimulated.

“Is your caffeine overload sucking the life out of you?!” he bellowed, all grave concern.

As a mum and journalist, I can’t imagine a world without coffee, indeed I think it gives me life, rather than detracting from my health like some sort of hidden, menacing black hole. But a recent bout of gastro, whereby I had no choice but to give up coffee for four whole days while I recovered, had me questioning whether I was overdoing it on the caffeine front. Was I actually addicted?

Here’s the skinny on coffee and caffeine, my fellow rocket fuel lovers:

How does caffeine work?

Caffeine is a stimulant drug that makes you feel more energized because it acts on the brain and nervous system. You know that happy, buzzed feeling that helps you feel more alert, refreshed and able to meet that deadline? Love it – thank you, beloved coffee.

What foods contain caffeine?

It occurs naturally in foods such as coffee, tea and cocoa and has a long history of safe use as a mild stimulant. Other surprising and “hidden” sources of caffeine include cola-type soft drinks; energy drinks, shots and bars; pain relievers and some over-the-counter medications like cough syrup and slimming tablets; chocolate; ice-cream and even decaf coffee, which still can have up to 32mg of caffeine.

How much coffee is safe?

Generally speaking, 400 mg per day or less is said to be an acceptable dose of caffeine. A general guide is instant coffee contains 60-100mg, drip or percolated coffee contains 100-150 mg and espressos or latte contain 90-200mg.

Is caffeine harmful to anyone? 

Pregnant and breastfeeding women, athletes and children should limit their intake of caffeine. Or, if you know you’re super-sensitive to caffeine, easy tiger. Your susceptibility to caffeine depends on your body mass, state of health, metabolism, and whether or not your body is used to getting regular doses of caffeine.

What does caffeine addiction look like?

I once worked with a very senior journalist who drank up to 16 coffees a day. He was always very irritable and moody, with trembling hands. In short, not someone you wanted to spend a lot of time with. In large doses, caffeine can also make you feel anxious and cause you to have difficulty sleeping. Some other signs and symptoms of excessive amounts of caffeine include: a rise in body temperature, frequent urination and dehydration, dizziness and headaches and more. Withdrawal symptoms can include tiredness, crankiness, a persistent headache, and sweating and muscle pain. Medical experts say the easiest way to break caffeine dependence is to cut down gradually, giving your nervous system time to adapt to functioning without the drug.

The good news about caffeine

Don’t despair, coffee lover, it ain’t all bad – coffee can be beneficial to your health and help combat diabetes. In addition to its high antioxidant levels, coffee also contains magnesium and chromium, which help the body use insulin. In type 2 diabetes, the body loses its ability to use insulin and regulate blood sugar levels. Drinking more than one cup of coffee per day has also been found to lower the risk of stroke by up to 25 per cent. One recent study found coffee can help keep the blood-brain barrier intact, which protects the brain from unwanted materials and damaging elements, while another study found coffee may even improve short-term memory. In short: enjoy your coffee, but don’t overdo it. Bottom’s up!

caffeine, coffee, caffeine addiction