A cup of coffee in the morning transforms us into energetic beings capable of working for the rest of the day. For many, a coffee break at regular intervals is a necessity. But is this stimulation of the central nervous system through caffeine healthy? Is our reliance on this power-booster doing more harm than good? Is caffeine harmful for us?
What is Caffeine and What Does it Do?
Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in the leaves, beans and fruits of over 60 different types of plants. It is present in tea, chocolate, coffee and energy drinks. A little quantity may be added to certain medications as well.
Caffeine is primarily a stimulant that supports alertness and increases mental activity. It has similar effects on the heart and metabolism.
Is Caffeine Harmful?
There has recently been a lot of research regarding the harmful effects of excessive caffeine consumption. Some even suggest it to be potentially life-threatening, and the results simply cannot be ignored.
1. Reduced Absorption
Caffeine, being a diuretic, causes losses of minerals and essential vitamins from the body. These include potassium, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins B and C. It significantly affects the absorption of calcium and iron, increasing risks for osteoporosis and anemia. The risk of developing kidney stones also increases.
2. Cardiovascular Ailments
Regular caffeine consumption raises blood pressure, leading to hypertension. This is one of the major risk factors for atherosclerosis. Caffeine also raises blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Mild heart arrhythmias and palpitations may also be experienced. Drinking 4 to cups of coffee a day can supposedly lead to myocardial infarction.
3. Gastrointestinal Complications
Caffeine stimulates the over-secretion of acids in the stomach, causing heart-burn. This also gives rise to the incidence of ulcers, and aggravates any pre-existing ones. To make matters worse, certain aromatic oils in coffee slow the healing process of the GI tract and stomach lining. A mild laxative effect may also be experienced.
4. Psychological Effects
Caffeine addiction can have a number of side-effects, such as persistent headaches, restless-leg syndrome, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, weakness or hyper-activeness, and dizziness. In the worst of cases, a person may develop anxiety disorders.
5. Cancer Incidence
Certain types of cancers have also been traced to the intake of excessive caffeine (more than 5 cups a day). These include bladder cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer and stomach cancer.
6. Consumption During Pregnancy
Certain birth and mutagenic effects have been seen in babies whose mothers consumed excessive amounts of caffeine during pregnancy. In some cases, spontaneous abortions have also been reported. The debate regarding is caffeine harmful or not is a long one. However, it must be stated that every person has their own level of sensitivity towards caffeine consumption. Occasional drinkers are at a better chance of not having experienced any of the negative effects mentioned above. Moreover, factors such as age, gender, body mass, use of certain medications and certain health conditions must also be considered.