Caffeine, the Root of All Evil or the Giver of Life?

By Trevor Chetcuti on 13 Dec 2013
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Caffeine, the Root of All Evil or the Giver of Life

Research is still unclear about what caffeine does when it comes to your health
Photo: GoToVan

Caffeine is an amazing substance. Since it was first detected in the early 1800s, it has been the subject of intense scrutiny and research.

Despite this, the research is still unclear on what caffeine does and doesn’t do.

In the sporting world, it has long been believed that caffeine improves performance. In fact, prior to 2004, the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) banned caffeine above 12mcg/L in the urine of athletes, fearing its possible performance enhancing benefits.

However, newer research has shown that caffeine’s positive relationship with exercise is highly questionable at best, leading the WADA to remove caffeine off the banned list.

“If you use caffeine, coffee or tea as a stimulant to give you energy, you need to stop consuming it!”

Caffeine is also known to elevate two important stress hormones: adrenalin and cortisol.

While an elevation in both of these hormones is associated with an increase in energy, cortisol has a natural rhythm of highs and lows throughout the day that can be disrupted by a regular intake of caffeine.

Disruption of these diurnal rhythms can lead to many different conditions including anxiety and depression. In addition, changes to adrenalin can alter the release of a hormone called insulin that regulates blood sugars.

In fact a lot of research has been performed on blood sugar dysfunction and caffeine over the years. So far, the research is still inconclusive. It seems that for every paper highlighting the changes to blood sugar biochemistry, there is another paper contradicting it.

The conflicting research may be due to several different problems:

1. The Rate of Caffeine Elimination

Caffeine is eliminated from the human body by a group of enzymes produced in the liver. 

The number of these enzymes available to perform this process can change from person to person based on genetics and exposure.

2. The Frequency of Consumption

The body does a great job adapting to things we do regularly.

Our physiology can change very rapidly. Therefore, the length of time and the number of days a week in which we consume caffeine may be influencing the mixed results in the research.

3. The Question is Still Being Asked – Amount or Frequency?

To keep some form of comparability between studies, most assess caffeine consumption are based upon daily caffeine intake per kilogram of bodyweight.

This creates a lot of variables in itself given that people seem to react differently to caffeine based upon the time of consumption and the frequency of consumption.

Where to from here with coffee

There are guidelines coffee drinkers can follow to watch their intake
Photo: Stirling Noyes

So Where to From Here?

Until the research has clearly indicated a definite positive and negative level of caffeine, there are a few important guidelines we’ve developed based on assessing thousands of people over the years:

1. It’s a Drink, not a Drug

If you use caffeine, coffee or tea as a stimulant to give you energy, you need to stop consuming it!  There will be a physiological reason for your fatigue. Get it fixed, don’t mask it. The consequences could be serious.

2. Avoid the Mornings

In the morning your cortisol levels should be high. Taking caffeine regularly may alter this process and affect your health in the long run.

3. Limit Caffeinated Beverages to One a Day

Despite the research not clearly identifying why, pancreatic function definitely seems to be influenced by consumption.

4. Do Not Consume Caffeine While Breastfeeding

Infants have a limited ability to remove caffeine. Breastfeeding mums consuming caffeine can cause their children to become irritable both during the day and night.

5. Don’t Consume Within Eight Hours of Bed

Unless you have had the genetic tests showing you’re a fast caffeine eliminator, caffeine consumed within eight hours of bed may alter sleep patterns. Best those caffeinated drinks are kept to lunch.

About the Author

Dr Trevor has a passion for helping people that goes beyond what most people expect. He has a knack for getting to issues quickly and an amazing knowledge for all things health and wellbeing. With extensive study in areas such as Physiology, Nutrition, Supplementation, Applied Kinesiology, Neuro Emotional Technique and Chiropractic, Dr Trevor's skills at working with a wide range of health and performance issues have become widely respected.

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