The culprit is caffeine! Whether you get it in your coffee, tea, soda, eat it in your chocolate and cocoa, or swallow pills, caffeine is affecting your health in dozens of dangerous ways.
Many people cannot start their day without a cup of coffee. Others must have it at their ten o’clock break. Children and adolescents get their caffeine from cokes and soft drinks. Office workers, construction workers, pilots, and schoolteachers use caffeinated beverages to buy a few more hours of alertness at the job.
With 70 percent of the world’s coffee supply consumed in the United States, the average American has 227 mg of caffeine per day. Four out of five Americans are drinking coffee on any given day. About 20 percent of these use more than 350 mg daily, which is sufficient to produce dependency. Coffee and tea contribute the greatest amount of caffeine in our diet. The caffeine content of coffee and tea depends on the method of preparation and the strength of the brew. It can vary from 30–140 mg per five-ounce cup. Soft drinks are the third largest contributor of caffeine, containing 30–55 mg per twelve ounces.
Caffeine belongs to a family of chemicals called methylxanthines. This drug has adverse effects on our body, which can be felt from head to toe. So, while coffee lovers are brewing their coffee, soda lovers guzzling their soda pops, and pill users are popping their pills, methylxanthines are brewing a whole host of health problems inside their bodies.
Central Nervous System
Many people do not depend on a nutritious breakfast to give them “go power” but on coffee. It is common knowledge that caffeinated drinks affect the nervous system and provide temporary relief from fatigue and sluggishness. At first, caffeine produces a state of alertness and increased energy. When the drug effects wear off, it causes irritability, nervousness, headaches, and depression. Yet, while it may speed up reaction time and improve automatic processing skills like doing arithmetic problems, it worsens performance of more complicated tasks. “Caffeine also worsens fine motor coordination due to an increase in hand tremors.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, vol. 43, 1995, 860.
Fetuses and Pregnant Women
Within thirty minutes of consumption, caffeine reaches peak levels in the blood and saturates other body tissues at a level proportional to their water content. Unborn fetuses take in caffeine through the placenta, and breast-fed infants get it through human breast milk.
Caffeine does not get eliminated from the body right away. Depending on age, sex and hormone levels, medications, smoking status, and pregnancy, caffeine may stay around for days. Newborns, pregnant women, and those using birth control pills remove caffeine even more slowly from their bodies. After three hours to four days, only 50 percent (half-life) of the caffeine is removed from a newborn’s body. This is due to the fact that infants do not have the enzymes to metabolize the drug. The half-life of caffeine in nonsmoking adults is 5–7 hours, in pregnant women 18–20 hours.
Caffeine has a variety of physiological effects on the body. See Table 1. Adults who drink 1–3 cups of coffee or have 1–4 sodas daily consume 75–200 mg of caffeine and will experience clear physiological effects.
PMS and Fibrocystic Breast Disease
Women who drink 8–10 cups of coffee daily have a 7 times greater risk of having PMS symptoms than those who do not drink. A female physician with fibrocystic breast disease was consuming 1,300 mg of methylxanthines per day. When she stopped using coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate for a month, the lumps in her breasts diminished. After two months, her fibrocystic disease disappeared.
Linda Massey, a bone researcher from Washington State University states that caffeine can have negative effects on our bones. According to Creighton University’s Osteoporosis Research Unit, “The more regularly a woman drinks coffee, the more calcium is excreted in her urine. The loss adds to about 5 mg of calcium for every six ounces of coffee or two cans of cola.” Schardt, D. and S. Schmidt, “Caffeine: The Inside Scoop,” Nutrition Action Healthletter, December 1996.
Birth Defects, Miscarriages, and Infertility
Studies with laboratory animals reveal that mother rats who take large amounts of caffeine bear malformed babies. Three women who drank 8–25 cups of coffee per day reported birth defects in their children. Since caffeine easily crosses the human placenta, the fetus is quite vulnerable to this drug, especially as infants metabolize it very slowly.
In one study 4,000 women who consumed 150–300 mg of caffeine per day during their pregnancy had more than twice the risk of delivering under-weight babies (less than 5.5 pounds) than those who consumed less caffeine. The risk of delivering a low birth weight baby is almost five times greater for women who consume more than 300 mg of caffeine per day. Infants born with low birth weight have an increased risk of dying in early infancy. Due to these adverse effects of caffeine on the fetus, the FDA advises pregnant women to avoid caffeine-containing foods and drugs, if possible, or consume them only sparingly.
Ever tried getting pregnant while consuming caffeine-containing drinks? A 1996 study showed that women who were consuming more than 300 mg of caffeine had double the risk of miscarriage. Allen Wilcox of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle, North Carolina, showed that women who drank just one cup of regular coffee a day were half as likely to become pregnant during any given menstrual cycle as those who drank less. Since then ten more studies have been conducted, and they have found that three or more cups of regular coffee a day impairs fertility.
Table 1 – Physiological Effects of Caffeine Intake
- Increases urinary losses of calcium
- Increases risk of low birth weight babies and birth defects
- Decreases fertility
- Causes insomnia and disrupted sleep
- Causes irritability, nervousness
- Causes headaches and anxiety
- Produces alertness at first, then depression
- Stimulates central nervous system
- Elevates blood sugar and blood cholesterol
- Aggravates peptic ulcers
- Elevates blood pressure
- Causes irregular heartbeat and palpitations
- Increases PMS symptoms
- Produces breast lumps
- Increases risk of bladder and other cancers
Reprinted from Danger is Brewing in the Cup, Northwestern Publishing Association, Sacramento, California.