Caffeine is the world’s most used drug. It is believed that its use may first date back to the Stone Age and coffee was first introduced to the Europeans in 1573. Today, in Britain, an estimated 165 million cups of tea are drunk each day, and 90% of Americans drink coffee every day. As such a widely accepted and hugely popular psychoactive drug, is there more to caffeine than meets the eye? Should we be worried? Take a look at our collection of 10 weird and wonderful, and some slightly worrying facts about caffeine:
1) Caffeine is more prevalent in the food and drink we consume than you may be aware. For example until recently Wrigley’s chewing gum were producing packs of eight sticks, with each stick containing as much caffeine as half a cup of coffee. Carbonated drinks, not just cola contain caffeine, as well as chocolate, weight loss pills, waffles, trail mix, and jelly beans. As a result of these surprising levels of caffeine the USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently investigating the safety of caffeine in snacks and energy drinks.
2) The number of people seeking emergency treatment in the US after ingesting energy drinks doubled to more than 20,000 in 2011. One particular famous branded energy drink has appeared in 21 separate reports from the FDA about adverse health effects.
3) There is as of yet, no scientific consensus that moderate caffeine consumption is harmful, in fact, used in moderation, caffeine may have positive effects. Some research has shown that caffeine consumption may be linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer and breast cancer, and that drinking tea and coffee may be linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Additionally coffee is known to be packed full of antioxidants, which stop other molecules oxidising and producing free radicals.
4) Caffeine acts as a stimulant, making us more alert and helping us get things done and is often used to increase productivity. Caffeine increases dopamine production in the brain, one of the body’s natural ‘feel good’ chemicals. Caffeine molecules also bind to receptor cells in the brain instead of adenosine molecules. Adenosine molecules are responsible for calming the central nervous system therefore triggering tiredness, so the caffeine molecules effectively block their action and delay the onset of fatigue, keeping us more alert.
5) Caffeine can enhance athletic performance, both in terms of endurance and high intensity bursts of exercise, but a greater improvement is seen during endurance exercise rather than sprinting. Benefits are noticed more by athletes who rarely consume caffeine, as opposed to regular coffee drinkers. Caffeine also burns fat; research has also shown that immediately after caffeine is consumed it stimulates the release of fats into the blood. These then become the body’s primary energy source, before reverting back to using carbohydrates. The International Olympic Committee has banned caffeine in Olympic competitions.
6) Caffeine has a laxative effect as it can cause your gastrointestinal muscles to contract. Since it speeds up your overall metabolism the process of digestion and waste elimination of also speed up.
7) In Britain we spend £850 million a year on coffee and £600 million a year on tea, and the average American spends over $1000 each year on coffee.
8) Over consumption of caffeine can result in physical dependence, and may cause insomnia, increased blood pressure and indigestion. The six signs of caffeine withdrawal are tiredness, headaches, difficulty concentrating, depressed mood, muscle pain and nausea. These usually kick in 12 to 24 hours after abstaining from caffeine, and if experienced, may indicate a caffeine addiction.
9) As well as keeping us awake, caffeine has been known to have positive effects positive such as increasing your ability to learn, comprehension, memory, reflexes, and thought clarity.
10) Coffee is not without its place in the world of famous musicians. According to historical sources, Beethoven would always count out exactly 60 coffee beans when making a cup of coffee, Bach’s ‘Kaffee Kantate’ was written as a tribute to his favourite drink, and Verdi was quoted as saying “Coffee is balm to the heart and spirit”.
It would seem the jury is out as to whether caffeine is in fact good or bad for you, but like many things in life; everything in moderation. You might as well enjoy your cafe frappe latte mochachino; there are many worse things you could do. Just remember to go easy on the sugary fatty flavoured syrups, full fat milk, extra sugars, and tempting cakes that seem to go hand in hand with a cup of coffee. And in terms of exercise, it would seem that a caffeine boost before a workout will help you go that extra bit further, or give you the energy burst you need if you’re a bit tired. Mmm, I think it’s time to put the kettle on, how do you take yours?!