Caffeine may well be America’s favorite and certainly it’s most accepted drug. According to the World Resources Institute, we consume 4.2 Kilograms of coffee and .3 kg of tea per capita annually. That’s just under 19 pounds of caffeine laden beverages for every man, woman, and child in this country. American’s aren’t even top of the list when it comes to coffee and tea consumption. We come in just under Portugal as the world’s 22nd highest consumer of coffee and we consume only 4% of the planet’s tea. Compared to India at 23% or China at 16%, you could say we haven’t yet warmed up to the idea of boiled leaves. Behind oil, coffee is the number one traded commodity on the planet. There are over 60 countries now exporting the heady beans to a world hungry, or perhaps thirsty, for brewed caffeine. Retail sales of coffee worldwide are peaking says The gourmet Coffee Project. The retail equivalent of over $50 billion in coffee is being funneled through the London and New York stock exchanges each year.
Needless to say, caffeine isn’t going anywhere any time soon. So what are we make of this metabolic stimulant? In large doses over extended periods of time, say, the entire two years of your graduate program, caffeine is known to cause serious adverse side effects such as irritability, anxiety, muscle twitching, respiratory alkalosis, headaches, and heart palpitations among others according to a 1983 article by James, JE and KP Stirling titled “Caffeine: A summary of some of the known and suspected deleterious effects of habitual use” in the British Journal of Addiction. The Esophageal center also reports that peptic ulcers, erosive esophagitis, and gastrointestinal reflux diseases can be directly attributed to the prolonged consumption of large amounts of caffeine.
Okay you say. I am not a drinker of large amounts of caffeine. I am not slurping a pot of coffee on my way out the door in the morning, quadruple lattes at lunch or 64 ounce containers of cola from the local corner store with my supper. Where do I stand? Is one or two cups too much? Should I be worried? It turns out, no. You should not be too worried. While it is true that each individual has their own tolerances, it is safe to say that your morning cappuccino might be doing you more good than you realized. 100 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of one 6 ounce cup of coffee or a 24 ounce mug of black tea, was shown to increase brain activity in the frontal lobes, the part of the brain “where part of the working memory network is located” says Tudor Raici, editor of World and Health News referring to a study performed by researchers at the Medical University in Innsbruck Austria. This means that test subjects were able to answers more questions quicker and with more accuracy when given a relatively small dose of caffeine. Other studies have shown that relatively light consumption of caffeine may reduce the risk of heart disease, aid in weight loss, increase sex drive, and boost memory retention.
So what is a reasonable amount of caffeine? According to Morning Addition’s Allison Aubry the news for us coffee and soda lovers, those of us lured from our beds by the promise of caffeine, is a little bit dismal. The average adult only needs 6-8 ounces of coffee, one and a half Red Bull energy drinks, half a shot of espresso, or a little under a liter of cola. On the other hand if you are a tea lover (which I am as well), you are free to drink upwards of 40 ounces of black or 20 ounces of green. On a fantastic note, you can eat three quarters of a pound of milk chocolate or 24 ounces of dark and still be under the 100 milligram mark. You know, if that’s something that appeals to you.
Caffeine can be very addictive. Withdrawal symptoms include headache, nausea, fatigue, irritability, trouble sleeping, and lack of focus. Since caffeine tolerance is very easy to build, especially in individuals who consume more than 200 milligrams per day. It is easy to find yourself unwilling or unable to give up your favorite caffeinated beverage. If you are like me, one cup 8 ounces does not make. I tend to drink all four cups that my French press coffee maker provides me each morning. What’s a girl to do if she wants to wean herself slowly from the grip of caffeine? You can start slowly, perhaps switching from lightly roasted beans to more dark robust varieties. The longer a coffee bean is roasted the less caffeine it retains. The same is true for tea, the darker the leaf the less caffeine. Crank it up a notch and you can replace one or two cups a day with decaf coffee or an herbal tea such as mint, chamomile, rooibos, or ginger. Many soft drink manufacturers are beginning to make low-caf or caffeine free versions of their most popular drinks. And of course, you could always start drinking more water.
As in most areas of our lives, moderation is the key to good health. Just about everything can be good, or perhaps neutral, for you if consumed in moderation. A chocolate truffle once or twice a week is a treat, ten of them every night will leave you with a closet full of clothes that don’t fit. A drink with friends after work can be lovely and sociable, a bottle of scotch every night will most likely have wishing you had stuck to an after dinner cup of coco. You can say the same about caffeine, go ahead and enjoy your latte every couple of days. You deserve it. As for me, I think believe I may go pull out that box of African Red Bush tea I saw crammed into the back of my pantry.