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That morning coffee – many of us can’t really live without. We get cranky without our daily caffeine shot.
It’s a habit a lot of us have. In fact, British Coffee Association recently stated that in the UK they drink a whopping 70 million cups of coffee a day. It’s more or less the equivalent of 7 Olympic size pools.
We consume a lot of that black miracle-worker. It wakes us up, makes us feel human the morning and tastes pretty good too. But what effect does caffeine actually have on our body?
Caffeine – the miracle drug that keeps you awake
We all know that coffee (and also most kind of tea) gets its energising qualities from caffeine – a chemical that affects our central nervous system. Thanks to its effect on our nervous systems, caffeine is actually classified as a drug.
It’s thought to help reduce the feeling of physical fatigue, increase thought-processing, make you more focused and generally improve your concentration.
How does it do it? We all have a chemical in our cells called adenosine. It has various functions in our body one of which is to promote sleep. Caffeine can block adenosine from reaching its receptor, therefore, making us feel more active and less tired. The effects of caffeine are quite mild and generally last for a short period of time.
The dark side of coffee
Caffeine generally has a positive effect on our bodies, making us less tired and feel more awake. But it’s also thought to narrow your blood vessel, increase your blood pressure and increase your heart rate.
This is why sometimes when you drink too much coffee, you feel like your heart is going to jump out of your chest. It’s usually harmless (although unpleasant) and should pass within few hours.
However, because of that effect, caffeine can be potentially dangerous for people with hypertension and heart diseases so they should watch their caffeine intake more carefully.
Regular high caffeine intake might lead to caffeine addiction. This is yet to be definitively proven but the withdrawal of caffeine might cause some side effects including headaches, irritability, nervousness, nausea, constipation and muscular tension. These symptoms usually appear about 12-24 hours after someone has stopped consuming caffeine and usually last about one week. It is said that you can minimise or completely avoid these symptoms by stopping your caffeine intake gradually.
How much coffee is too much coffee?
That depends on how much your body is used to it, your height and weight as well as your genes.
You’re probably raising your brow at the last claim that genes affect the effect of caffeine on you. Yep, it’s true. A gene called CYP1A2 is partially responsible for metabolising caffeine. Depending on the variation of the gene you have, your response to caffeine is going to vary. We’ll talk about this in more detail in our next blog so stay tuned. On average though you should consume no more than 250 mg of coffee which equals about two cups of coffee a day. More caffeine can lead to mild side effects mentioned before such as increased heart rate.
In extreme cases, caffeine overdose can actually have very serious consequences. First off people with heart problems and hypertension should watch their caffeine intake more carefully as it might have a stronger effect on their heart rate and blood pressure.
But too much caffeine is also harmful to people who are considered fairly healthy. Some side effects of extreme caffeine overdose include restfulness, insomnia or muscle twitching (yikes). Or in very severe cases it might induce temporary mental disorders as well as death.
If you just looked at your coffee cup with dread – don’t worry. You’d have to consume around 75-100 cups of coffee to induce the very severe caffeine overdose symptoms. So that third cup of coffee you’re having right now is probably not going to kill you.
Coffee: The Good, The Bad & The Addicting – An infographic highlighting the dangers of coffee addiction.
Should you have that cup of coffee?
Unless you have a heart condition or suffer from hypertension, there’s no significant harm in drinking coffee (in moderation that is).It makes you feel more awake, improves your concentration and is said to improve your cognitive skills.
But what about all these rumours that coffee cures cancer? Or reduces wrinkles?
Unfortunately, it’s a complicated area of study and the evidence for such claims is mixed, so we have to say that for now, it’s doubtful that coffee is the cure for cancer. But it sure tastes good so have a cup!
To give you an idea of how caffeine levels in coffee compared to other substances: