Your Daily Dose of Caffeine May Be Hurting You

by Sarah Winfrey on 28 October 2013 8 comments

Over half of Americans over 18 drink at least one cup of coffee a day, and over 90% of people in the world (PDF) consume caffeine in one form or another. Caffeine is a favored stimulant, and one that many of us don't even think about using. (See also: Cheap Ways to Get Your Caffeine Fix)

We see caffeine as a safe choice — a good way to wake up, give ourselves energy when we need it, and help us keep working when we feel too tired and want to quit. We feel like it is a necessary, because otherwise we would be tired, lethargic, and unable to finish everything we feel like we need to get done.

While it's rare to hear about caffeine killing anyone, we also shouldn't put anything into our bodies without thinking about it first. If you've never considered your consumption of caffeine, or if you are struggling with issues like anxiety and dehydration, it might be time to think through some of the downsides of caffeine and decide whether you want to continue putting it in your body.

Dehydration

Coffee is a diuretic, which means that it increases your urine output. This means that, when you consume it, you will lose more water than you would have otherwise. Unless you're conscientious about replenishing that water, you could easily end up dehydrated.

Even minor dehydration can ruin your day, causing headaches, tiredness, and problems concentrating. And major dehydration is a major deal, making it difficult for your body to function on many different levels.

Curbs Hunger

In most people, drinking caffeine interferes with your body's hunger mechanisms. You'll feel less hungry than you are. This is why many people who consume caffeine end up skipping meals, because they don't even recognize their own hunger.

Anything that shuts down the body's normal ways of functioning should raise some questions. Sure, we can be vigilant, knowing that we need to feed our bodies even though we take in caffeine, but do we want to be changing the way our bodies interpret natural signals?

Withdrawal

Anyone who has ever tried to stop drinking caffeine can tell you that it sucks. You feel tired, you get headaches, and sometimes you just don't feel like your brain is functioning at optimum levels. These symptoms can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.

While the withdrawal itself is something you can survive if you're determined to leave caffeinated beverages behind, it's not something that anyone wants to deal with. Add to that the fact that caffeine causes withdrawal symptoms because your body is dependent on it, and you have to ask yourself if the stimulant is something you want in your body at all. (See also: Kicky Drinks Without the Caffeine)

Stress

Even a small amount of caffeine can trigger a stress response, raising levels of adrenaline and mimicking a stressful situation. If you're continually consuming caffeine, your body will always be functioning as if you are stressed. (See also: 99 Free Ways to De-Stress)

Many people claim that coffee helps them jump start their days. However, what you're actually doing is giving yourself a small adrenaline rush every morning. Over time, this can contribute to adrenal fatigue. Even if that doesn't happen, though, most people would choose to be relaxed rather than stressed, even if they don't have quite as much energy.

Sleep Disturbance

Caffeine can disrupt your sleep for up to 24 hours after you consume it. While most people don't feel like they are under caffeine's influence after a couple of hours, it is still in the body and still affects how you function. (See also: Foods That Help You Sleep)

In most people, caffeine disrupts REM sleep, which is the part of sleep where your body processes emotions and interprets your day. This may not seem important, but over many nights, the cumulative effect can be a hampered emotional intelligence. You may struggle with your own feelings or in interpreting and responding to the feelings of people around you. Since these are skills that make life smoother, you may notice a change in how you feel about the world, how much you can handle, or how even your emotions are.

For young adults, recent research has shown that caffeine-induced sleep disturbances can slow brain development. Caffeine really may "stunt your growth."

Whether you choose to continue consuming caffeine or not, knowing these downsides can help you if you do begin to feel like your body isn't functioning as well as you might like. While quitting caffeine can be hard, some people find that it frees them and helps them become more balanced — and like they don't have to take on the world.

How much caffeine do you consume in a typical day?

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Guest's picture
Keith

You should do one on the benefits of drinking coffee to balance this out.
A growing body of research shows that coffee drinkers, compared to nondrinkers, are less likely to have type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and dementia, have fewer cases of certain cancers, heart rhythm problems, and strokes. Some studies have shown it to help lower cholesterol. It also helps concentration.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Thanks for the idea! I'll see if I can't add it to my queue one I get through a stash of holiday articles.

Guest's picture
Emily

Thanks for the info! I consume a lot of caffeine and it definitely has also been shown to have some great side-effects, like huge amounts of antioxidants that are easy for the body to absorb. But it's good to know the down-sides as well, like dehydration, so that we can compensate.

~Emily from The Orange Slate
@emilyamccord
http://www.theorangeslate.com

Guest's picture
Guest

Please don't spread bad information! The dehydration/diuretic effect has very little evidence supporting it, according to the National Institutues of Health review of studies.

Summary: "The available literature suggests that acute ingestion of caffeine in large doses (at least 250-300 mg, equivalent to the amount found in 2-3 cups of coffee or 5-8 cups of tea) results in a short-term stimulation of urine output in individuals who have been deprived of caffeine for a period of days or weeks. A profound tolerance to the diuretic and other effects of caffeine develops, however, and the actions are much diminished in individuals who regularly consume tea or coffee. Doses of caffeine equivalent to the amount normally found in standard servings of tea, coffee and carbonated soft drinks appear to have no diuretic action."

They conclude: "The most ecologically valid of the published studies offers no support for the suggestion that consumption of caffeine-containing beverages as part of a normal lifestyle leads to fluid loss in excess of the volume ingested or is associated with poor hydration status. Therefore, there would appear to be no clear basis for refraining from caffeine containing drinks in situations where fluid balance might be compromised."

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19774754

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Thanks for the link. I actually found several studies contradicting this, but I only found them via hard copy. I suspect that dehydration is something to be wary of with caffeine, even if not to the extent it's often been touted.

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Jason

I have actually been considering quitting coffee all together. My only problem is the taste - I love it. I look forward to sipping on a nice hot cup of joe in the morning.

The problem I have been noticing lately is that an hour or so after a cup of coffee I actually feel more tired than before I drank it. Do you think that has to do with over stimulation or maybe taxing my adrenal glands?

Guest's picture
Jason

Well, I made it through the day with no coffee. The problem is, I have an early meeting tomorrow and the coffee that will be provided is awesome. :)

Guest's picture
Tracey

I have to weigh in with Keith. I was having some dizzy spells and my doctor advised me to drink 2 cups of coffee a day to increase my blood pressure a bit. Interesting about it being a diuretic, I have to make sure i get my water in.