Caffeine is the most commonly consumed psychoactive drug in the entire world â€” an estimated 80 percent of people worldwide ingest caffeine on a daily basis. With the ever-growing trends in coffee and energy drink consumption, an increasing number of people are developing a chemical dependence on caffeine.
Officially known as 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine, caffeine occurs naturally in over 60 plants, and can also be made synthetically and added to a variety of products. Common sources of caffeine include:
- Energy drinks
The Chemical Action of Caffeine
Caffeine is structurally similar to a chemical in the body called adenosine. Adenosine binds to adenosine receptors in the brain to slow down nerve cell activity and cause drowsiness. It is also responsible for dilating blood vessels â€” allowing more oxygen to reach the brain â€” and promoting deep sleep.
Caffeine attaches to the same receptors, blocking the adenosine. This action constricts the blood vessels, reducing the amount of oxygen reaching the brain and causing insomnia. Nerve cell activity in the brain increases and causes the pituitary gland to release adrenaline, giving a sudden boost in energy.
Caffeine Side Effects
Excessive caffeine consumption â€” considered to be the equivalent of ten cups of coffee (eight ounces each) per day â€” has been linked to serious side effects, such as:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fast heart rate
- Frequent urination
Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms
Caffeine stays in the body for only 12 to 24 hours, at which point withdrawal symptoms begin to kick in. Withdrawal symptoms peak at about 20 to 51 hours of caffeine abstinence, and can last for up to nine days. Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include:
- Muscle pain
- Nausea and vomiting.
Experts are currently debating whether caffeine is an addictive substance. Proponents of caffeine addiction claim that the presence of withdrawal symptoms indicates a physical dependence on, or addiction to, caffeine. People who argue against caffeine addiction claim that caffeine consumption is a pleasurable habit rather than a physical addiction.
Cutting Out Caffeine
Quitting caffeine “cold turkey” is not recommended, those who drink excessve amounts of caffeine may experience intense withdrawal symptoms. Instead, try cutting back slowly to allow your body to adapt to the gradual decrease in caffeine. By tapering off, you will most likely escape the worst of the withdrawal symptoms.
You may also want to consider changing your eating habits. If you continuously snack on healthy foods throughout the day, your blood sugar levels will remain constant, which will decrease your cravings for chemicals. Also, remember to avoid foods that contain caffeine. Nutritional supplementation, especially a good multivitamin, may help to sustain your energy levels as you cut back on the caffeine.
MedicineNet Staff. (n.d.). Caffeine. Retrieved June 3, 2010, from the MedicineNet.com website: http://www.medicinenet.com/caffeine/page2.htm.
MedlinePlus Staff. (n.d.) Caffeine in the diet. Retrieved June 3, 2010, from the National Institutes of Health MedlinePlus website: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002445.htm.