Multipotentialite reader and writer.
Many people begin their day with a cup of coffee or tea. These methylxanthine-containing drinks boost one’s alertness slightly and help with brain fog. Then, when we abruptly stop for a day or two, we could get a splitting caffeine headache.
Our society accepts caffeinated beverages as routine facts of life. However, these drinks deliver less caffeine than other products like caffeine pills or energy drinks.
While these drinks are accepted by the FDA and general society, many haven’t stopped to research the true effects of energy drinks on the body before reaching for that Redbull.
This article will look at various research in the field to provide an answer.
“[Caffeine]’s good but Adderall is better.
At parties it's more of a social thing, I will be more alert….
I have such a high caffeine intake it does not affect me….
I use caffeine plus B12... it's more bioavailable”
Overheard in the hallways of institutions of higher learning, students talk about using energy drinks, caffeine pills, and other psychostimulants to improve alertness and do better on tests. Article after article show these products can have a negative effect when used inappropriately and at high doses.
“It is widely believed that caffeine, particularly at high doses, is associated with multiple cardiac comorbidities including palpitations and a number of arrhythmias ." - World Journal of Cardiology
“And in toxic doses, caffeine directly releases calcium from intracellular stores, which also may increase the susceptibility for arrhythmias." - BMJ Case Reports
According to the Mayo Clinic, “up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults.” An average cup of coffee has 100 mg of caffeine. High-dose caffeine products, like caffeine powders or pills, can be toxic according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Just one teaspoon of powdered caffeine is equivalent to about 28 cups of coffee,” Mayo Clinic writes. Also, caution should be taken when mixing caffeine with alcohol and other drugs. Additionally, “women who are pregnant or who are trying to become pregnant and those who are breast-feeding should talk with their doctors about limiting caffeine use to less than 200 mg daily.”
Too much caffeine can result in anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues, high blood pressure and rapid heart rate. Caffeine withdrawal can result in irritability, anxiety and headaches.
According to Brand and Koch in Frontiers of Psychology, neuroenhancements, like high dose caffeine products, are a form of “non-medical use of psychoactive substances or technology to produce a subjective enhancement in psychological functioning and experience.”
Caffeine’s cognitive effects may include a positive effect on memory, wakefulness, attention and improved reaction time.
“There is an active debate about the ethics and pros and cons of neuroenhancements at present and in the future. Scientists remind us not to overestimate the effects of substances used as neuroenhancers, but the market for substances (e.g., soft-drinks) promising an energy boost, or cognitive benefits as well as mood enhancement is increasing.” - Brand and Koch
The degree to which caffeine is actually helpful is called into question by some. A 2005 study by James, et al. was entitled “Dietary Caffeine, Performance and Mood: Enhancing and Restorative Effects after Controlling for Withdrawal Reversal.”
This study was conducted to determine whether the regular use of dietary caffeine has effects on performance and mood compared with not using caffeine consistently. It also examined whether dietary caffeine restores performance and mood when a person is sleep-deprived.
96 participants in the study alternated weekly between taking a placebo or taking a caffeine supplement three times a day. They ran the study for 4 weeks and then gave the participants a battery of tests to assess their mood state and attention.
It was found that, “Caffeine had no significant net enhancing effects for either performance or mood when participants were rested, and produced no net restorative effects when performance and mood were degraded by sleep restriction.”
Another resource states: “Thus, caffeine's effects on cognitive function and mood can be detected in rested individuals, both users and nonusers of caffeine, using a variety of standardized tests. Only certain behavioral functions appear to be susceptible to the influence of moderate doses of caffeine (32–256 mg). In particular, it appears that in well-rested individuals, low and moderate doses of caffeine preferentially affect functions related to vigilance (i.e., the ability of the individual to maintain alertness and appropriate responsiveness to the external environment for sustained periods of time), but have limited effects on memory and problem-solving abilities. At high doses caffeine can interfere with performance of tasks requiring fine motor control.”
ScienceDaily made this comment in its 2019 article entitled, "Consumption of caffeinated energy drinks rises in the United States":
“From 2003 to 2016, the prevalence of energy drink consumption on a typical day increased significantly for adolescents (0.2 percent to 1.4 percent); young adults (0.5 percent to 5.5 percent); and middle-aged adults (0.0 percent to 1.2 percent). Per capita consumption of energy drinks increased significantly from 2003 to 2016 only for young adults (1.1 to 9.7 calories). Pooled across years, energy drink consumers had significantly higher total caffeine intake compared with non-consumers for adolescents (227.0 mg vs 52.1 mg); young adults (278.7 mg vs 135.3 mg); and middle-aged adults (348.8 mg vs 219.0 mg).
Notably, middle-aged Mexican Americans and young adults with low educational attainment were found to have the highest prevalence of energy drink consumption.”
With all the evidence that high dose caffeine products are not helpful, but instead actually harmful for performance, why has the consumption of these products increased?
“It's all about the dopamine.” - US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Dopamine is a brain chemical that helps with motivation, movement, and emotions. Increasing dopamine can provide an alert and wake feeling. Caffeine does enhance dopamine signaling in the brain, but this stimulant effect does not cause a large surge. It does not significantly disrupt the reward pathways of the brain. A significant dysregulation in the reward pathways of the brain would be called an addiction, but caffeine overuse is not an addiction because no large surge occurs.
Textbooks write that because humans have a complex brain for which they allocate much of their daily energy, humans’ preferences for high-calorie, high-sugar foods are ingrained to keep us alive. Yet with the high rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity that affect many people, these preferences are counter adaptive.
Many are getting sick because of these evolutionary inclinations. Like our drives for high-calorie, high-sugar foods, this drive to consume more caffeine at high doses is similar. It is meant to improve our survival, but the above evidence shows that energy drinks and other caffeinated beverages have a negative effect on the human body
If you are struggling with caffeine overuse or other substance abuse, talk with your healthcare provider. You can also contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889. Per the website, the Helpline is “a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.” Those interested might also seek a support group, like Caffeine Addicts Anonymous.
High=dose caffeine use while not considered a typical “drug” can affect people in negative ways. It’s best to use caution when using high-dose caffeine supplements and ask for help if needed. While there can be other uses for high-dose caffeine supplements besides improvement of alertness, like the treatment of pain, any indications should be done under the guidance of medical professionals. It is important to realize that, like with everything, moderation is key. Caffeine headaches could be a thing of the past.
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