Right now, I’m at a very uncertain point in my life – should I give up coffee once and for all or should I stay loyal with the bittersweet brew? Yes, that’s relevant (at least for me, lol)! The last few weeks have been veeery busy emotionally and also physically (some health issues including hormones that threw everything off track completely) and I just felt like cutting back on coffee a little helped me and my body – and that made me wondering. I wouldn’t consider myself a “heavy” coffee addict (drinking a maximum of 3 cups a day) anyway, but I’m wondering whether it would have a significant impact on my body and mind to go coffee-free?
I’ve been reading a lot of contradictory information about coffee consumption and its health impacts on the internet (I’m sure so have those of you interested in the topic). And some side-effects are quite obvious and don’t come as a surprise, mostly if you – for example – tend to drink 8 cups every day, I’m sure you noticed something! But others are subtler and far less obvious – sometimes only noticeable after some time after quitting. Okay, that sounds as if we were talking about an illegal drug now… But seriously, coffee is addictive. We know it and science can back this up by how caffeine works in your body. As a medical student I’m very interested in that kind of things anyway so, let me explain it to you (for those of you who haven’t heard or read it anywhere yet):
Caffeine is a competitive Inhibitor to our Adenosine-Receptors (some of which are located in our brains (Hypothalamus) and usually induce – when triggered by Adenosine – sleep). Hence, when being blocked we actually prevent ourselves from falling asleep – the alertness stimulating aspect we all know too well, right? Caffeine also slows down the degradation of other substances (needed to keep us awake and alert so, we stay in that state of alertness even longer).
The most common effects are the stimulation of the central nervous system (alertness), tachycardia (your heart is beating faster), an increase in blood pressure, dilation of your bronchi (a part of your lungs, means more air getting in), an increased urge to urinate and ramping up your guts peristaltic (read: Movements, means it’s working harder). So, its effects are showing wherever there are Adenosine-receptors. When consuming more than 150-200 mg of caffeine (read: Depending on the sort and preparation of your coffee, let’s assume an average kind of coffee – about 80 mg caffeine per 100 ml), we feel an up-lifting effect on our brains (the sensory parts of the Cortex) – increased brain activity leads to a higher level of concentration and store capacity.
Those effects kick in after approximately 15-20 minutes and will last for up to 5 hours. And the effects mentioned above are, of course, not the only ones. So, next to all the nice benefits there is a second side to the medal: Caffeine can cause insomnia, tachycardia (at some point too much), gut-related issues and allergic reactions. If consuming an especially high dose we’ll become grumpy, get a headache or/and start shaking. It’s also worth mentioning that after a while, our bodies get used to caffeine and we develop a certain tolerance towards the substance (and therefore can’t reap the same benefits from it after a while). Of course, there are several cross reactions as well, but I won’t get into so much detail here now. After all, this list of effects and the actual mechanism is only for you to better understand what’s happening and what aspects need to be considered when trying to consume coffee mindfully. Most important: Enjoy reasonable amounts of it – cherish the cups you drink and don’t overdo it. Because it is – as always – a question of balance. Sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s true.
Of course, the extent to which individuals are affected varies widely – not all bodies are the same (and therefore respond differently). So, I guess in the end this means that there is no universal answer to whether coffee consumption is an entirely good or bad thing – it very much depends on the amount consumed and your physical characteristics. So, I would suggest you listen to your body very carefully – to figure out what works best for you. In my case, that would probably mean to cut back on caffeine a little (one a day, maybe not every day) but not giving it up completely – because I’m quite a sucker for that (no milk, no sugar, pitch black, please). But I’ll definitely let you know whether or not I can notice any differences! Stay tuned! Self-experiment (only one cup per day) on the way…