Caffeine – yay or nay?

Good morning!

I hope you are enjoying the glorious sunshine we’ve been having the last few days.  What a glorious mood everyone is in –  let’s hope it stays this way.  And it’s barbecue weather at last! We used it a lot last summer as it is quick and requires hardly any cleaning (gas barbecue all the way!). Be careful not to burn your food though (that’s a health story for another day, plus food tastes terrible when it’s burnt!). I even made homemade beetroot burgers (go me!) and they didn’t fall apart on the barbecue…. And other people ate them and didn’t complain so they can’t have tasted too bad.

This week I looked into the pros and cons of caffeine.  Now this is a hot topic. Does it matter what science thinks? It seems that you could be told that it was poison and there’d still be a queue out the street at the best coffee shop in town. It’s addictive (because when you find a good coffee there’s NOTHING better!). But is it good for us? Should we be (thinking about) cutting down? And what about heart patients? Does it make things better mentally (especially when it’s something to look forward to in the morning)? And what’s the payoff physically (does it set your atrial fibrillation off even though research says it shouldn’t? Then avoid it!). If you’ve had a heart attack recently, can coffee be a good stimulant to keep you awake when that afternoon fatigue sets in? You bet! But if it’s keeping you awake because you are then over-stimulated at night (and so the cycle continues where you are tired the following day), then no, it’s not a good idea.

There seems to be quite a lot of proof both ways, however the research is usually conducted on a high intake of caffeine (4 cups+ per day).  I would recommend that the less caffeine you have the better, as your body starts to rely on it.  It’s most important to listen to your own body however, as some people can tolerate it much better than others (i.e don’t shoot the messenger). See below for the benefits and drawbacks (don’t shoot the messenger!).

art blur cappuccino close up
I love coffee art!

Positive effects of caffeine:

  • Increased alertness, productivity and concentration through the release of adrenaline.
  • May improve memory and cognition.
  • Improved performance in athletes.
  • Has been shown to help prevent Type 2 diabetes in some people, however may make the blood sugar levels of those with diabetes worse.

Negative effects of caffeine:

  • Caffeine can cause physical dependence, requiring more to get the same effect.
  • Withdrawal:  you’ll likely develop withdrawal symptoms like extreme fatigue and splitting headaches (caused by ­constricted blood vessels).
  • Disrupted sleep: Generally it takes about 6 hours for the caffeine to clear your system, although it varies from person to person.
  • Too much caffeine is associated with reduced coordination, insomnia, headaches, nervousness and dizziness.
  • Ingesting excessive amounts can also put a strain on the heart and is linked with increased blood pressure and raised blood cholesterol in large amounts.
  • Coffee may increase osteoporosis – coffee can cause the body to excrete calcium in urine, and loss of calcium can lead to osteoporosis.
  • Disrupts blood sugar levels – can cause the same highs and lows as consuming sugar.
  • Some people find that it triggers off palpitations and atrial fibrillation. This has never been proven in research however I would say that it’s personal to you and if it seems to trigger AF for you, then avoid, avoid, avoid!
blur chart check up curve
If you notice a link between your coffee and palpitations, cut down.

Calories and caffeine content of different drinks (taken from Starbucks, other cafes/home preparations will vary):

  • Espresso: 30-40 calories, 150 mg caffeine
  • Tall cappuccino semi skim milk: 100 calories, 150mg caffeine
  • Tall latte, semi skimmed milk: 143 calories, 150mg caffeine
  • Tall chai tea latte, semi skim milk: 180 calories, 75mg caffeine
  • Tall hot chocolate (no cream): 222 calories, 20mg caffeine
  • Tall Americano no milk: 11 calories, 150mg caffeine
  • Tall breakfast tea with splash of semi skim milk: 20 calories, 50mg caffeine
  • Instant/powder coffee with splash milk: 20 calories, 60-90mg caffeine
  • Green tea: 0 calories, 40-60mg caffeine

There is no strict recommendations for the safe amount of caffeine to have each day, other than for pregnant women, which is 200mg.  General advice is that 300-400mg of caffeine per day is safe and shouldn’t cause adverse effects.  However it is important to monitor how caffeine makes you feel and assess whether your intake may be higher than you think.  For many heart patients, it makes anxiety worse. For others, it hardly touches the sides. Apparently it is all to do with how YOUR body metabolises it. For me, 1 strong coffee will have me bouncing off the walls and unable to sleep if I have it after midday. Even hot chocolate keeps me awake 🙁 And makes me grind my teeth. Which is never a good look right!?

If coffee makes you feel jumpy, gives you palpitations, keeps you awake or you are relying on it every day, perhaps it is time to cut down. Try switching to tea initially, then down to herbal tea or nothing as you need it less.

So what can you have instead? Is life as you know it over (and less ‘buzzy’)?

person holding white ceramic teapot on white wooden surface
Tea can be nice too…

Some alternatives:

1. Drink more water
Often when you are feeling tired and feel like a coffee, you are actually dehydrated. By having coffee you are further dehydrating your cell’s and therefore will feel WORSE rather than better. So try to increase your water intake to see if that helps to reduce the need for caffeine.

2. Switch to black or green tea 
High in antioxidants and polyphenols, tea has been shown to reduce rates of heart disease and cancer. Green tea in particular has been shown to have anti-cancer properties (although the amount needed for this effect is 5+ cups per day).

3. Try herbal tea!
Ginseng has been considered the king of energy tonics for several thousand years in Chinese medicine. Unlike coffee, which stimulates the central nervous system, ginseng elevates energy gently. Ginseng has also been associated with a stronger immune system and an overall sense of well-being. Other teas that are caffeine free include rooibos (redbush), chamomile, peppermint and fennel. If you are on warfarin or other anticoagulants ask your pharmacist about possible interactions between herbal tea and your medication.

4. Eat some goji berries
Goji berries are remarkable for having one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants of just about any plant in the world. In addition to their high antioxidant activity, these superfood berries have energy-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties. Eat them straight, or sprinkle into your trail mix, cereal, or salads.

What do you think? How does caffeine affect you? Tell us below. Espress-o yourself 🙂

Until tea-time…

Please note that the information provided is a guide only and does not take into account your individual circumstances. Please seek advice from a medical professional before commencing any exercise programme or new diet.

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