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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Caffeine, health and quacks on the internet.

Stop EVERYTHING!! Somebody is WRONG on the internet!!!!

The husband is groaning at me again because he knows full well a RANT is forthcoming. This time, someone with a book to promote, posted some coffee-related claptrap on LinkedIn. Sadly, LinkedIn limits the space you have to write comments so I couldn’t do my righteous indignation justice on there, so it will have to go here instead.

The article (HERE) basically demonises caffeine. under the guise that it apparently stops you working calmly and productively. First of all, surely this depends a great deal on what your work actually is. In my day job, coffee is the ONLY thing that enables me to stay awake and focused, not because I’m tired but because my work is so tedious and repetitive. I fail to see how staying alert with your brain firing on all cylinders can ever be a problem in a work environment, unless you’re a yoga instructor or something. Excessive consumption can inevitably lead to hypertension, anxiety and insomnia, but then true excess of anything is never good for you. Caffeine is fine, as long as you are sensible about it. One commenter on the original article supports it, saying that she used to drink 20 cups a day and had all sorts of health problems. Go figure.

The article appears to be trying to argue that caffeine doesn’t actually improve your alertness; it claims coffee offers a short term, quick fix. You feel tired, you drink coffee, it wakes you up and peps you for a bit, but then it wears off, you feel “withdrawal” symptoms (largely psychosomatic in most cases, but also linked to dehydration, ie: headaches and migraines), then having another cup returns you to “normal” mode rather than giving you an actual boost again. This is a strong argument for (psychological) addiction, as it suggests that you’d need to drink more each time to get the same buzz effect. However, this is not in itself harmful. In fact, it is only unpleasant if you do ‘withdraw’ from caffeine. You’ll get the headaches and lethargy if you don’t have your morning coffee, but then, why shouldn’t you just drink it?

This study from the University of Vermont details what actually causes the withdrawal headache, but also, interestingly, shows how there is no net benefit of continued caffeine consumption, ie: you don’t get more and more and more alert by drinking coffee every day, it does it’s job, it wears off, rinse, repeat. The crucial bit here is IT WEARS OFF. The article appears to be trying to argue that being in a constant state of hyper-alertness, the adrenaline-charged fight or flight instinct is not good for staying cool, calm collected and focused at work – well, true, but you only get to that pepped up state through excessive consumption – in which case, you will also get the come-down and the withdrawal. A few cups of coffee to ease the tedium of a corporate office job do not have these effects.

Caffeine wakes you up by latching on to adenosine receptors in the brain. For a more technical explanation, try this article but in brief, adenosine is a chemical produced naturally in the brain that tells your body to rest. The adenosine molecules latch on to receptors in the brain, and suddenly you start feeling sleepy. Caffeine just gets in the way. Caffeine molecules are similar enough to adenosine molecules that they can attach to the adenosine receptors instead. When this happens, your brain never gets the message that it needs to rest, and so you don’t feel sleepy. As soon as your body processes and rids itself of the caffeine, the receptors are freed up, and adenosine can seep back in, and low and behold, you feel sleepy again. Caffeine therefore only inhibits the adenosine that is already there. If you are not tired nor sleepy to begin with, then the caffeine won’t misplace anything and you won’t automatically feel tired as soon as the caffeine wears off, and won’t get the withdrawal either.

This is all very short term. The cycle of adenosine displacement and replacement takes place over a period of a few hours at most. The article says nothing of the long term effects of caffeine consumption, most of which are highly beneficial. This study shows that long term caffeine consumption can protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia (particularly acute in women, apparently). This one suggests coffee reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Here’s one saying that it prevents prostate cancer. This one demonstrates how coffee acts as an antidepressant (again, particularly for women), and this one even goes as far as to say “Drinking Coffee Reduces Suicide Risk by 50%” (you can guess which of these is my favourite piece of click-bait!). All mightily good stuff. And yes, for the record, there are also many articles about coffee/caffeine being bad for anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, arrhythmia, kidney stones, other forms of diabetes, and osteoporosis. It’s all about balance. If you’re a stressed out, obese insomniac with brittle bones, then maybe you should leave it out, nd consult a doctor who didn’t write their thesis in the geography department.

My final problem with the original LinkedIn article is the claim that “coffee has a 6 hour half-life…Have a cup of joe at eight a.m., and you’ll still have 25% of the caffeine in your body at eight p.m”. Tellingly, there are no sources cited for that little gem.  In an average, healthy person, the body metabolises the caffeine in one cup of coffee in 2-3 hours, less if you have a high metabolic rate or if you have already built up a good tolerance to it. So, it’s only likely to prevent you from sleeping if you drink a cup within 3 hours of going to bed. This metabolism time doubles for heavily pregnant women though, and also stays in infants’ systems via breastmilk for far longer, so caffeine in late pregnancy and while breastfeeding is not advisable – unless of course, you are aware of how long it takes to process and don’t exceed that rate of consumption. If your body takes 3 hours to rid itself of the caffeine, then you can have a coffee every three hours with no withdrawal and no effects of excess either. As already shown, having the caffeine in your system is not in itself harmful anyway.

Yes, I do love my coffee and will defend it, and I dare say that makes me biassed. But I defend it with some verifiable evidence. I would love you to buy my coffee and even better,.buy my book, but the book is not really about caffeine or health benefits or lifestyle choices at all. Unlike the author of the original article. Grab a coffee, have a read and make up your own alert, happy, awake minds!

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Posted by on September 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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