Caffeine is a naturally occurring central nervous system stimulant many people consume globally. According to Health Research Funding, about 54% of Americans over 18 consume caffeine daily. Meanwhile, 65% report that their total consumption of caffeine generally occurs during morning hours around breakfast time. While caffeine can be part of a healthy diet (as well as having some health benefits), one must also avoid its overconsumption. Too much caffeine can negatively impact our health and lead to undesirable adverse effects.
What Is Caffeine?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in more than 60 plants (such as coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa pods, etc.). It is most commonly sourced from coffee beans, but there are other natural sources. There is also synthetic (man-made) caffeine. This kind of caffeine is added to specific medications, drinks, or foods.
The FDA has also approved the use of caffeine for the treatment of apnea of prematurity and prevention and treatment of bronchopulmonary dysplasia in premature infants. Other Non-FDA-approved uses include treatment for migraines, post-dural puncture headaches, and enhanced athletic performance.
What Are the Effects of Caffeine?
Caffeine works by stimulating the brain, heart, muscles, and central nervous system- which helps us stay alert and prevent feelings of exhaustion. It is known to block the chemical adenosine (a natural chemical that helps us calm down). As a result, it causes us to feel alert when we consume caffeine. When ingested, it travels to the gut and quickly absorbs into our bloodstream. It then travels to the liver and is broken into different compounds that affect various organs within your body (such as the brain).
How Does Caffeine Affect My Body?
These are some of the various ways caffeine can affect specific systems within our body:
- Central Nervous System– As a central nervous stimulant, caffeine increases alertness when entering your brain- which helps you feel more awake and attentive. Through medications or different foods and drinks, it can also help treat/manage drowsiness, headaches, and migraines. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, some studies suggest that people who often drink coffee may also have a lower risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life. However, more research is needed.
- Digestive and Excretory Systems– Caffeine can increase the amount of acid in your stomach, leading to heartburn or an upset stomach. Caffeine acts as a hyper-mobility agent that increases movement in the gastrointestinal tract. It can even lead to an increase in colon movements, which can have a laxative effect where you feel like you need to poop more often. You may also have to pee more often since caffeine goes through your liver and exits through urine.
- Circulatory and Respiratory Systems– Caffeine may also cause your blood pressure to increase within a short period. Some studies suggest that an increase in blood pressure results from a temporary block in a hormone that naturally widens our arteries. Or it may result from an increase in adrenaline. While this spike is only temporary, those with irregular heart rhythms should be careful since an increase in adrenaline can cause your heart to work harder. Meanwhile, caffeine may also alter an individual’s breathing rate due to the stimulating effect caffeine has on the nervous system. It is also known to relax our respiratory muscles, which increases airflow in the lungs. Overdose of caffeine can also lead to an irregular heartbeat and breathing issues.
- Skeletal and Muscular Systems– Large amounts of caffeine may interfere with our body’s ability to absorb and metabolize calcium and may lead to issues with osteoporosis. Caffeine withdrawal may also lead to achy muscles.
- Reproductive Systems– Caffeine can also travel from the bloodstream to the placenta. If pregnant, it poses a risk of increasing your baby’s heart rate and metabolism. Caffeine can also slow the rate of fetal growth, which increases the risk of miscarriage. Doctors recommend pregnant women consume no more than 200 mg of caffeine a day. Caffeine may also interfere with the body’s ability to balance reproductive hormones- causing fertility issues. In men, scientists believe that too much caffeine can lead to sperm DNA damage.
What is Nervousness?
Nervousness is a natural response we feel when we go through a stressful event. It is our body’s way of preparing us for what is about to occur. The feeling is only temporary and will leave once the stressor has passed. While nervousness is a symptom common in many anxiety disorders- they are not the same.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety disorders are psychiatric disorders where feelings of tension, worry, dread, uneasiness, fear, or nervousness significantly impact how one lives their daily life. While nervousness is only temporary, people with anxiety disorders often need additional treatment to help ease their symptoms. They may also experience other symptoms (mentally and physically) that can also affect their ability to function.
How Can Caffeine Affect Nervousness?
Caffeine can intensify nervousness, especially if you are consuming too much caffeine. According to the FDA, they recommend individuals consume about 400 milligrams a day (about 4-5 cups of coffee). Of course, this amount will vary between each individual. Some may find that they need to consume less or none at all. Meanwhile, others are okay with consuming more caffeine. It all depends on someone’s sensitivity and how their body metabolizes caffeine. However, if you find yourself experiencing any adverse effects- it may be a sign that you need to cut back.
Caffeine is a stimulant often intended to help us stay awake and alert. However, if you consume too much caffeine (or are sensitive to it), this may increase feelings of nervousness when facing a stressful event. Caffeine-induced nervousness may result from the fact that caffeine blocks our adenosine receptors, increasing our body’s levels of dopamine, noradrenaline, and glutamate. The increase of these natural chemicals within our body can intensify the feelings we get when our body enters into that fight or flight mode. Therefore, if you consume too much caffeine before a stressful event- your nervousness may be more intensified.
What is Caffeine Withdrawal?
If you are used to regularly consuming caffeine, cutting cold turkey may trigger withdrawal symptoms. You may experience:
- Depressed mood
- Difficulty concentrating
Depending on how reliant you have grown on caffeine, these symptoms will go away within 2-9 days. However, during this period you may notice that you are feeling more nervous.
How Can I Reduce Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms?
While symptoms will go away within 2-9 days, it can still be frustrating when they interfere with your life. We recommend that you:
- Cut back slowly to avoid shocking your body. Set a limit, slowly incorporate other substitutes lower in caffeine, and steadily shift to decaf alternatives. If you would like to cut caffeine from your diet completely, slowly ease out of your dependence on caffeine until you are happy with the substitute of your choice.
- Take a pain reliever (such as Tylenol) to help ease any aches or pains.
- Reduce your intake of caffeinated beverages.
- Avoid going back to your usual consumption of caffeine if you start to feel bad. It will only prolong the process.
- Drink enough water because dehydration can worsen symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.
- Get enough sleep to reduce feelings of fatigue.
- Try exercising or eating nutrient-dense foods as a way to naturally boost your energy levels.
- Try keeping your morning coffee routine while enjoying caffeine-free alternatives. Therefore, it won’t be much of a shock to you.
Should I Stop Consuming Caffeine?
Besides gradually reducing or eliminating caffeine from your diet, you may also want to look at other alternatives. Some people report that they feel better having caffeine from other sources besides coffee or energy drinks. Some alternatives you may want to consider (which still contain some caffeine) include:
- Decaf coffee or tea
- Mushroom coffee
- Brewed Cocoa
- Matcha and green tea
- Yerba mate tea
- Masala chai
- Black tea
- White tea
However, others may wish to remove caffeine from their diet. If that is the case, you may consider exploring other beverages and seeing which ones you can best fit into your diet and routine (especially if you are accustomed to drinking your daily cup of coffee in the morning). Other alternatives that are caffeine-free include:
- Chicory root “coffee”
- Water (can be infused with different fruits)
- Water or lemon water
- Peppermint tea
- Rooibos tea
- Golden milk
In the End…
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what course of action you would like to take when it comes to your caffeine consumption. If you have any questions or concerns about consuming caffeine, we highly encourage you to reach out to your doctor or a registered dietician. In consulting with them (and listening to how your body feels), you will know whether you should stop your caffeine consumption or not. While caffeine can be part of a healthy diet, there are other alternatives out there that you can enjoy throughout your day.