What is Caffeine?
Caffeine is a chemical found in some leaves and seeds, including tea leaves, coffee beans, cocoa beans (chocolate and chocolate beverages), kola nut (flavour ingredient in Cola drinks or eaten raw in Western Africa), yerba mate and guarana. It is also added as a flavouring to some soft drinks, energy drinks and medications (especially for cold and pain).
Caffeine is a stimulant which excites the brain and makes you alert for short periods of time. It is also a diuretic, a chemical that helps remove fluid out of your body, which makes you want to visit the bathroom often. Caffeine is rapidly and completely absorbed into the bloodstream within 30– 45 minutes of drinking/eating. The effect of caffeine is different for everyone, some people are more sensitive to it than others.
How much should you consume?
Most healthy adults (19 years and above) should consume less than 400 mg per day, this is equivalent to 3 cups of black tea or 3 cups coffee per day. Some people should restrict their intake of caffeine to less than 200 mg. Individuals with a variation in their CYP1A2 gene have an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart attack if they consume more than 200 mg of caffeine (2 small cups) a day. Find out if you have the gene variation through a Nutrigenomics test
Women who are pregnant or nursing should consume less than 300 mg per day, equivalent to two cups or less. It is recommended that caffeine should be avoided or limited for children and teenagers. They should consume less than 2.5 mg per kilogram of body weight, per day. That is:
It is very easy for kids to consume more than the limit, because 1 can of cola and 1 cup of chocolate milk is more than enough to exceed the limit
How much is in your food?
One cup of black tea typically contains 25 to 110 mg of caffeine, which is less than a typical cup of coffee. The amount of caffeine depends on the amount of tea leaves used, and the cooking time and temperature. The more you brew it and the darker it gets, the more caffeine it has.
Energy drinks and soft drinks
Caffeine is one of the main ingredients of energy drinks. The amount is equivalent to a cup to coffee and tea.
Caffeine content can vary based on the brand. You can download the complete list here: Food Source of Caffeine
Is Caffeine safe?
As of today, research shows that a moderate intake of caffeine is safe and does not increase your risk for heart disease, osteoporosis or cancer. For most people caffeine causes trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability (sensitivity), upset stomach, nervousness, rapid heart rate and headaches.
The Good News: Low and moderate levels of caffeine (20–200 mg) can have positive effects such as increased wellbeing, happiness, energy, alertness, and sociability.
The Bad News: High levels of caffeine can produce anxiety, jitteriness, and upset stomach. Some studies suggest that a high caffeine intake is associated with slight calcium imbalance and decreased bone density. So you should supplement your diet with foods high in calcium if you are a regular tea/coffee drinker.
Will it dehydrate you? It was considered that since caffeine is a diuretic, drinking tea or coffee will make you dehydrated and cause electrolyte imbalance, however that is not true. Drinking a moderate amount of tea or coffee will not dehydrate you, because 99% of the beverage is water, and any water that is removed from your body will be replenished, and will also hydrate you.
Is Caffeine Withdrawal real or just a myth?
It has been validated that caffeine withdrawal is a disorder and categorized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5). Common withdrawal symptoms are:
- Headache (about 50% of incidences)
- Decreased energy/activeness
- Decreased alertness
- Decreased contentedness
- Depressed mood
- Difficulty concentrating
- Foggy/not clearheaded.
- In addition: flu-like symptoms, nausea/vomiting, and muscle pain/stiffness may also occur.
The withdrawal symptoms have a dose-dependent effect, with higher severity of symptoms with higher dose of daily caffeine intake. You can feel these symptoms for caffeine withdrawal of as small a dose as 100mg – so yes, caffeine is addictive and it’s withdrawal symptoms are real!
You can feel the effects of caffeine withdrawal within 12-24 hours after abstinence in most cases. But for people who drink higher doses – 900 mg/day (8-9 cups) the symptoms may appear after 24 – 43 hours. The bad news is that you will have peak intensity of symptoms at 20 – 51 hours (2 – 3 days) but the good news is that these symptoms will usually last between 2 – 9 days, and withdrawal headaches may occur for up to 21 days.
Strategies to Reduce Caffeine intake:
- Prepare for the withdrawal symptoms
- You may want to let your friends and family know so they are prepared for your symptoms and mood swings, and give you support.
- Don’t stop abruptly, try reducing the amount of caffeine every 2 or 3 days.
- You can start by reducing to half a cup, or a “Small” order of your drink instead of a “Large”, or change your mugs with smaller cups.
- Boil and Brew your tea or coffee for shorter time, the lighter the drink the lower the caffeine content
- Mix your regular tea/coffee with half a cup of its decaffeinated version
- Choose water, herbal tea or decaffeinated tea or coffee instead
- Try caffeine-free soft drinks
- Choose latte instead of regular brewed coffee
Warning: Never mix caffeine with ephedrine (ma hung) due to serious health risks.
Juliano LM, Griffiths RR. A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2004 Oct;176(1):1-29. Epub 2004 Sep 21. Review. PMID:15448977