Today over 90% of North Americans consume caffeine on a daily basis. This central nervous system (CNS) stimulant has exploded into the retail coffee market not only in the volume consumed, but in the variety of ways to enjoy it as well.
There's something for everyone, from the elegant gourmet coffee houses to your everyday coffee shops and sports bars. Typically found in tea and chocolate at much lowers levels, caffeine is also a common ingredient in both prescription and over-the-counter pain medications.
Coffee is one of our most cherished and debated-about drinks. There are people who will tell you they simply cannot live without their daily dose of java. Others avoid it for its health-related side-effects or its undesirable over-stimulating results. While caffeine is clearly a stimulant, "facts" about its benefits or dangers are often clouded in myth.
A Sobering Thought
How many of us have been told that drinking coffee will help a drunk person become sober? This is actually false. While caffeine may help someone who has had too much alcohol become slightly more alert, it does not sober them up. However, the hangover headache may be helped by an aspirin painkiller combined with caffeine.
The combination is said to increase aspirin's effectiveness by as much as 40%. In fact, there are headache medications now that contain caffeine for that very reason.
How about the 'theta energy' boosting effect promised by energy drinks to make you more alert or perform faster, better or get higher. It's heavy promoted to the college student population. Is this effect just in the marketing or in your brain? Consider that the average cup of coffee has 100 milligrams of caffeine in an 8 oz. serving. An equivalent serving of a chilled energy drink has about 80 milligrams.
Health Or Hype?
And what about the debates about caffeine and your health? Again research varies, but the concerns focus on everything from the impact on your sleeping patterns to your blood pressure. In the latter case, caffeine is cited as a culprit in worsening the symptoms of hypertension due to increases in heart rate. In addition, there is also concern that it can have a negative impact by reducing the effectiveness of prescribed medications for the disease.
On the plus side in the health debate, there are medical studies that indicate caffeine might have a positive role in memory retention and the prevention of some cancers.
The American Academy of Neurology presented a report in 2007 (MSNBC.com, Aug 9, 2007) demonstrating caffeine's impact on improved brain activity in the frontal lobe. The study found that women 65 and older who drank more than three cups of caffeinated coffee had a 33% less decline in memory over women who drank one cup or none.
These results were not found in men however, which has led researchers to begin studies on whether caffeine is metabolized differently by men and women.
Obviously, there is the potential for both a good buzz or a bad buzz in your morning brew, energy drink or cup of tea. Because caffeine is a CNS stimulant, its effect will depend on your individual level of sensitivity to these types of stimulants. The key is knowing the state of your own health and the impact that caffeine consumption has on you.