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Caffeine Blues: Wake Up to the Hidden Dangers of America’s #1 Drug by Stephen Cherniske
One of the most accomplished nutritional biochemists and medical writers in his field reveals the truth about caffeine and helps you kick the habit forever. Nearly 80% of all Americans are hooked on caffeine, this country’s #1 addiction. A natural component of coffee, tea and chocolate, and added to drugs, soft drinks, candy and many other products, the truth about caffeine is that it can affect brain function, hormone balance, and sleep patterns, while increasing your risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, ulcers, PMS, stroke, heart disease and certain types of cancer. Discover a step-by-step, clinically-proven program that reduces your caffeine intake, and effective ways to boost your energy with nutrients, healthy beverages, better sleep and high-energy habits.
CHAPTER 1 Coffee and Caffeine: A Dose of Reality
We have seen several well-marked cases of coffee excess. … The sufferer is tremulous, and loses his self-command; he is subject to fits of agitation and depression; he loses color and has a haggard appearance. The apatite falls off, and symptoms of gastric catarrh may be manifested. The heart also suffers; it palpitates, or it intermits. As with other such agents, a renewed dose of the poison gives temporary relief, but at the cost of future misery. … By miseries such as these, the best years of life may be spoilt.
Goatherds, Monks, and the Rest of Us
The origins of coffee are lost in legend, although the most popular tale traces its discovery to a goatherd dwelling in Ethiopia. According to the story, the goatherd watched his flock eat the bright red berries from a wild evergreen bush—and was subsequently amazed to see the animals leap about with wild abandon. He tried some of the berries himself, and soon he was leaping too. By around the sixth century A.D., the plant had reached Arabia, where it was used as a food and medicine. Coffee berries were either fermented to make wine, or dried, crushed, mixed with fat, and eaten. It was not until the thirteenth century that Arab monks made a revolutionary discovery: Roasted coffee beans could be made into a drink. No more falling asleep at prayers! The news spread from monastery to monastery, then hit the streets with the worlds first coffeehouses. Everyone who tried coffee wanted more—and if they were travelers, they wanted to take it home with them.
With lightning speed, coffee became a valuable trading commodity and spread to the world at large: first to Turkey, then to Italy and France, and finally to the rest of Europe by the mid-seventeenth century. The Arabs maintained strict control of the coffee trade until smugglers from other countries got hold of the seeds. The Dutch brought coffee to Java and Ceylon, the French transported it to the West Indies, and a Brazilian obtained coffee for his homeland. Today coffee is cultivated widely in regions between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn: Central and South America, Java, Sumatra, India, Arabia, equatorial Africa, Hawaii, Mexico, and the West Indies.
Most American colonists drank tea, a caffeine-containing leaf from the Camilia senensis bush, until the boycott against King George’s tea tax climaxed with the Boston Tea Party in 1773. From that point forward, coffee
grew in popularity as America’s national drink. Americans are now the largest consumers of coffee in the world, drinking over 420 million cups per day, or about one-fifth of the world’s total annual supply. In America, coffee wins hands down as the most popular substance containing caffeine, with soft drinks, tea, and chocolate as runners-up.
From Plant to Percolator
The word coffee comes from the Arab word qahwah. The botanical name of the original species discovered in Africa whose beans are grown around the world today is Coffea arabica. There are three general groupings of coffee: Brazils (all Coffea arabica grown in Brazil), Milds (all Coffea arabica grown outside of Brazil), and Coffea robusta, a variety of coffee grown at lower elevations and generally considered to be inferior in quality to Coffea arabica.
Robusta beans contain nearly twice the caffeine of arabica and are also more acidic. Mass-marketed brands of coffee contain primarily robusta, whereas specialty coffees tend to be made primarily from arabica beans. One reason coffee spread so quickly around the globe is because it’s an exceptionally hardy, self- pollinating plant. Though it’s usually referred to as a tree, coffee is actually an evergreen shrub that, when cultivated, is pruned to a height of twelve feet or less. An arabica tree produces only about one to two pounds of coffee beans per year, so supplying worldwide demand requires an incredible amount of space.
We’ll discuss the problems associated with coffee cultivation in Chapter 7. Coffee berries—the fruit of the plant, which contains the beans—are usually harvested by hand and undergo a lengthy processing procedure. Once removed from the berries, the beans are fermented, washed, dried, hulled, and peeled before they are roasted. After roasting, the beans are ground and then they are ready to perk, brew, or drip into your favorite cup of Java.
A Cupa Cupa Cupa Cupa Chemicals
Caffeine has received a great deal of attention ever since it was identified as the principle stimulant in coffee (1820) . But it seems that every year, even more noxious ingredients are isolated in coffee. In 1992, researchers found another stimulant compound distinctly different from caffeine that may be responsible for coffee’s gastrointestinal effects. To date, over 700 volatile substances in coffee have been identified, including more than 200 acids and an incredible array of alcohols, aromatic compounds, carbonyl compounds, esters, hydrocarbons, heterocyclic compounds, and terpenoids.
Nonvolatile substances in coffee include caffeine and other purines, glycosides, lipids, melanoidins, caffeic acid, and chlorogenic acid. And that’s
just the stuff that’s supposed to be there. Coffee often contains a raft of pesticide residues and other contaminants such as nitrosamines, solvents, and my co-toxins. These carry well-defined health risks, and some are carcinogenic. Survival of the Bitterest Caffeine is produced by more than eighty species of plants, and the reason may well be survival. As it turns out, caffeine is a biological poison used by plants as a pesticide.
The caffeine gives seeds and leaves a bitter taste, which discourages their consumption by insects and animals. If predators persist in eating a caffeine-containing plant, the caffeine can cause central nervous system disruptions and even lethal side effects. Most pests soon learn to leave the plant alone. Which is not to say that coffee is impervious to insects. On the contrary, the modern agricultural practice of growing coffee plants in dense plantations fosters the development of insect infestations. Enormous amounts of chemical pesticides and herbicides are then applied to control those infestations. In fact, coffee is the most heavily sprayed food or beverage commodity on the face of the earth. Caffeine: Romancing the Drug When coffee was first brought to European cities in the seventeenth century, people were repelled by its color and taste. They complained that it smelled and looked like roofing tar. But after they experienced its stimulating effect, the beverage was quickly proclaimed to be one of nature’s miracles. Historians record this phenomenon without noticing the irony of what they are writing.
Caffeine is, after all, a psychoactive drug, and human beings tend to crave substances that alter their state of mind—among them caffeine, morphine, nicotine, and cocaine. Indeed, all of these alkaloids are chemically related and, while they produce widely different effects, all are poisonous. Caffeine is considered harmless simply because it is so widely used. Obviously, from a scientific perspective, that is not valid reasoning. What’s more, if caffeine were proposed today as a new food additive, the FDA would never approve it.
Any substance that causes such extreme reactions—heart palpitations, anxiety, panic, insomnia, and even birth defects—would be treated by the FDA as a new drug and denied status as a food additive. Yet amazingly, even healthconscious people, many of whom try to minimize their use of additives, preservatives, and drugs, consume high amounts of caffeine with no thought to the consequences. The authors goal in is to provide you with the facts you need to make informed choices about your own caffeine consumption. Until now, reliable information about caffeine has been unavailable, and there are some intriguing reasons for that.
First of all, most people are generally unaware of the amount of caffeine they are ingesting. Manufacturers can add caffeine to any food or beverage they want without disclosing the amount. (More about that in Chapter 7.) Few people know how much caffeine is in a cup of coffee or a can of soda, so they
have no way of evaluating the danger. Instead, they rely on what they hear and read in the media, and that information is rarely accurate. In his landmark review of caffeine and human health, R. M. Gilbert concludes: “If more were known about caffeine’s effects, and if what is known were known more widely, the damage done by caffeine might very well appear to be intolerable”.
Industry Feathers in the Academic Nest
The caffeine industry has generated a tremendous amount of propaganda and disseminated it successfully throughout the scientific, medical, and public arenas. But you won’t see SPONSORED BY THE CAFFEINE INDUSTRY stamped across the top. This material is invariably published by foundations and institutes with very academic-sounding names. But the fact is that many of these august bodies are heavily influenced by the caffeine industry, and so are the reports you read and hear.
The International Life Sciences Institute, for example, has been churning out studies and information to government, academic, and public institutions for decades. Few know that it is supported by the caffeine industry. In 1985, the ILSI merged with the prestigious Nutrition Foundation, an organization whose mission statement includes the acknowledgment that it is “created and supported by leading companies in the food and allied industries.” Prominent among the trustees of the combined ILSI/Nutrition Foundation are executives from the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Hershey Foods, NutraSweet, and Procter & Gamble.
A Case in Point
If you were curious about the dangers of caffeine, you would undoubtedly come across a brochure entitled What You Should Know about Caffeine. You would find this ubiquitous brochure on information racks in hospitals, pharmacies, public health offices, or in your doctor’s office. It’s available through the mail and on the Internet. What You Should Know about Caffeine is published by the very official-sounding International Food Information Council in Washington, D.C. The brochure does not list sponsors or disclose an industry affiliation.
When the author requested specific details of industry sponsorship, the author received another glossy color brochure that mentioned nothing about which organizations supply the funds to disseminate all this information. After pressing the issue through several phone calls, he finally received a list of IFIC “supporters,” including Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, M&M/Mars Candy, NutraSweet, Nestle, Hershey Foods, Frito-Lay, Procter & Gamble, and the Arco Chemical Company. Oddly enough, the IFIC “partners” also included the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses; the National Association of
Pediatric Nurses Associates and Practitioners; and the Children’s Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc.
This strategy perfectly illustrates the approach of the caffeine industry: aligning itself with professional health organizations and scientific foundations. What better way to head off criticism that its products are harming the American public?
Is the Information Accurate?
What You Should Know about Caffeine states: “Caffeine does not accumulate in the bloodstream or body and is normally excreted within several hours following consumption.” In fact, only about 1 percent of caffeine is excreted. The remaining 99 percent must be detoxified by the liver, and the removal of the resulting metabolites is a slow and difficult process. In Chapter 3, you will learn that it can take up to twelve hours to detoxify a single cup of coffee. In fact, the matter of accumulation has never been resolved. Evidence suggests that it may take up to seven days to decaffeinate the blood of habitual coffee drinkers. Plus, it can take three weeks or more for the body’s levels of stress hormones to return to normal. If that’s not accumulation, what is?
All the News That Fits, We Print
Prominent on the first page of What You Should Know about Caffeine is a colored box that states: “Research in relation to cardiovascular disease, reproduction, behavior, birth defects, breast disease and cancer has identified no significant health hazard from normal caffeine consumption.” When the author inquired as to exactly what “normal” consumption was, he was told 200 to 300 milligrams per day. As you will soon find out, most American adults ingest that amount before noon.
What about ingestion of more than 300 milligrams of caffeine? The IFIC doesn’t say a word about that, but in the following chapters you will learn exactly how that much caffeine can damage and even destroy your health. This information has been withheld from you because until now, the loudest voices in the caffeine debate have been connected directly or indirectly to the caffeine industry.
When the author asked the IFIC for scientific support for their assertion that 300 milligrams of caffeine was perfectly safe, they sent me a report published in Food and Chemical Toxicology. The authors of this report are both employees of the Coca-Cola Company and members of the National Soft Drink Association. As you might expect, the report downplays the effects of caffeine in the American diet, using some interesting techniques.
When Is a Cup Not a Cup?
Answer: When it’s a “standard” five- ounce serving. For some reason, the above authors state that a standard serving of coffee equals five fluid ounces. That way they can list the caffeine content as eighty-five milligrams per cup. (Most studies claim that a standard cup of coffee equals six fluid ounces, the amount held by a teacup—which is still far less than almost anyone actually drinks at one time).
Likewise the “standard” soft drink serving is listed as six ounces, when all sodas come in twelve-ounce cans—and soft drink manufacturers are now heavily pushing the twenty-ounce bottle. The caffeine content of soft drinks is listed as eighteen milligrams per six-ounce serving. In reality, soft drinks contain anywhere from forty-five to seventy-two milligrams per twelve-ounce can.
“What Caffeine Problem”?
Caffeine consumption is also downplayed in the study cited above by using per capita figures, which is simply the gross amount of caffeine consumed divided by the total population. The problem, of course, is that not everyone consumes caffeine in equal amounts. Per capita figures may be useful for a discussion of economics, but not of health. If you are supposedly reviewing the safety of a substance, it is absolutely critical to consider the individuals most vulnerable to possible adverse effects.
You’ll find, however, that none of the caffeine industry reports take that approach. Instead, they constantly refer to “mean” values, “average” people, and “normal” consumption. Remember the statistician who drowned trying to wade across a lake with an average depth of three feet? You have to look at reality, which is what you’re going to do in Chapter 2 when you calculate the amount of caffeine you consume. For a scientist, the word average raises a red flag because average figures are often useless.
Even worse, the use of averages is the easiest way to manipulate data. In the coffee research reported in newspapers and magazines, you will invariably see “average consumption figures.” But in a group of people with an average consumption of three cups per day, you’ll find some people who drink no coffee at all, some who drink one to three cups, and some who drink six to ten cups a day. Now this might average out to three cups per person, but what good is this information?.
The effects of caffeine are very much dose related, and, as you have
probably already guessed, the effects of one cup of coffee are quite different from the effects of four or six. It is important to understand that the caffeine industry’s “average” consumer does not exist. This mythical person, upon whom all their conclusions are based, is neither male nor female, weighs approximately 150 pounds, never experiences excessive stress, has perfectly functioning adrenals and liver, does not use birth control pills or any other caffeine- interacting drugs, consumes less than 300 milligrams of caffeine per day, and eats a well-balanced diet including a variety of foods high in B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Anyone who has a disorder that would be aggravated by caffeine is either dropped from caffeine industry studies or buried under the mountain of “mean” values.
The Search for Truth
For the past eight years, the author have conducted a systematic review of the world scientific literature on caffeine. This research has taken some real detective work. It’s difficult to tell what’s really going on at first. After all, he drank coffee for over twenty years, simply because he believed like everyone else that coffee, and caffeine, had no adverse health effects. He was in for the surprise of his life. The first thing he noticed was that much of the research on coffee was imprecise.
The majority of researchers refer to the standard coffee cup as a six-ounce serving, but most people drink from mugs, which contain twelve to fourteen ounces or more. That’s not to mention convenience-store coffee cups, which contain anywhere from twenty to thirty-two ounces. If you’re like most people, you probably consume far more caffeine than you think you do.
Likewise, many reports on coffee failed to specify the brewing method. Six ounces of drip-filtered coffee contain about 100 milligrams of caffeine, but the same amount of percolated coffee gives you 120 milligrams, and European-style boiled coffee packs in 160 milligrams of caffeine per cup. I began to see that the caffeine issue is rarely taken seriously. Nearly every researcher starts from the assumption that caffeine is okay. Why? Because, consciously or subconsciously, they are influenced by the fact that they themselves depend on coffee. The author has visited the offices of hundreds of scientists, professors, and clinicians. The coffee machine is as much a part of their environment as test tubes and computers.
Likewise, the journalists who report health news to the public are usually heavy coffee drinkers. His not not saying that these people are dishonest, only that information can be biased by the habits of those who make and break the news.
The Great Chain of Caffeine
It is also important to look at the chain of biochemical and behavioral events that caffeine creates, not just the immediate effects. Scientists rigorously adhere to this rule when looking at other drugs, but ignore it when studying caffeine. This error is illustrated graphically by one study on the effects of caffeine on schizophrenic patients, where regular coffee was replaced with decaf. The researchers postulated that if caffeine produces detrimental psychoactive effects, the patients should improve when decaf is used instead of regular coffee.
They made the switch, the patients did not improve, and so the researchers concluded that caffeine has no effect on psychiatric patients. What’s wrong with this conclusion? The study ignored the chain of events that result from caffeine withdrawal. Here a group of hospitalized schizophrenic patients, who are used to drinking three to eight cups of coffee a day, are switched to decaf without their knowledge. These people are going to have serious withdrawal reactions, including disorientation, irritability, anxiety, and depression. Obviously, they will not show signs of improvement. How could they? Most of them probably had splitting headaches from caffeine withdrawal!
Yet the research was published and is frequently used to support the erroneous view that caffeine produces no negative psychoactive effects. It gets worse. These same researchers introduced decaf a second time and did see behavioral improvements. Did they recognize the likelihood of a decreased withdrawal reaction? No way—instead, they stated that these improvements were probably a result of coincidence.
A Matter of Interpretation
The author says that he also found investigators who did an excellent job at analyzing the behavioral effects of caffeine ingestion by schizophrenics. One extremely well-designed study documented significant increases in thought disorder and psychosis after caffeine administration. The investigators also found that caffeine increased blood pressure and stress hormone levels in the patient group. This is important information for anyone involved in psychiatric care, but how the issue of caffeine and mental health is resolved depends upon which study is read and how the reader wishes to interpret the information.
When he brought the latter study to the attention of a leading psychologist, he acknowledged that caffeine can cause significant increases in stress hormone levels but concluded, “A cup of coffee is no more stressful than watching a suspense thriller on TV”. Can you see the profound error of this response? It looks blindly at the short-term consequences of caffeine use and ignores the real issue, which is the effects of long-term use. After all, what psychologist would condone the viewing of five suspense thrillers every day, year after year? Yet that analogy accurately describes the body’s hormonal response to regular caffeine consumption.
More Flawed Research: Caffeine and Hypertension
Another common mistake in caffeine research has to do with the relationship of caffeine to hypertension (high blood pressure). The author found numerous studies in which hypertensive patients were taken off coffee. After a week or two, when blood pressure did not drop, investigators concluded that caffeine has no significant effect on blood pressure. This is absurd because it may take three weeks or more after withdrawal from caffeine before stress hormones return to normal. Evaluating blood pressure over the first one or two weeks is meaningless.
What’s Real for You? If you look at the way real people consume coffee and soft drinks, you find, first of all, that most consume a great deal more than 300 milligrams of caffeine per day. There have been studies that measure the caffeine content of beverages as people actually consume them. One such study, published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, found that the caffeine content of a six-ounce cup of drip, filtered coffee (the type most people drink) ranged from 37 to 148 milligrams. A survey conducted by the Addiction Research Foundation found that a “cup” of coffee, as defined by the individual drinker, could contain as much as 333 milligrams of caffeine.
This conflicting data once again demonstrates that the idea of “normal” caffeine consumption is meaningless. Some scientific studies suggest that a 170-pound man could successfully detoxify 300 milligrams of caffeine over the course of a day without serious damage to his body. Theoretically, this may be possible—but not if he is under any significant degree of stress. Moreover, a 110-pound woman is almost certain to experience significant adverse effects from that amount of caffeine. And for anyone under a great deal of stress, even one cup may be enough to trigger the negative effects of caffeine.
Obviously, caffeine intake needs to be evaluated on an individual basis. In the chapters that follow, you will see that the effects and dangers of caffeine depend upon a host of variables, including gender, weight, age, stress level, general health, and medications. What’s more, caffeine may affect the same person differently at different times. The only way to safeguard your health and the well-being of your family is to inform yourself. A great place to start is by taking the tests in the next chapter.
Are You Addicited? How Much Is Too Much?
In the old days, coffee was served in teacups that sit on saucers. That size cup holds six ounces of beverage, which is considered the standard-size cup by researchers and the coffee industry. However, when I ask patients how much coffee they drink and they say, “Oh, no more than three cups a day,” I invariably find that means three mugs a day at fourteen ounces apiece, or the equivalent of seven cups of coffee. In most coffee shops, a “normal” cup of coffee is fourteen ounces and a large cup is twenty ounces. Thus, one large cup equals 3.3 cups of coffee. One of my clients told me that he only drank one cup of coffee a day. It turned out to be one of those giant thirty-two-ounce convenience-store mugs with the vented cover for drinking while you drive.
This man (and millions like him) consumed nearly 500 milligrams of caffeine on his way to work on an empty stomach. No wonder there’s so much conflict and tension at the office. By the time they get to work, these coffee-inhaling employees are wired and ready to fly off the handle. There’s no doubt that the damage done by caffeine is very much dose related. But it’s impossible to make general, blanket statements about how much caffeine is okay and how much is dangerous, since caffeine’s effects are different for each person.
Understanding the effects of your own caffeine ingestion requires self-knowledge and experimentation. As you reflect on the material presented here, most likely you will see yourself in one of the examples or case histories. As you read, keep an open mind and consider the possibility that how well you live, and even how long you live, depend to a significant degree on the amount of caffeine you consume. This book provides the information you need, but the rest is up to you.
Obviously, there are many factors affecting longevity and health, but none is easier to modify than caffeine intake. In my clinical practice, I have counseled more than 9,000 patients and kept careful records regarding their compliance and level of success. Of all my recommendations—including weight loss, dietary change, exercise, and stress management—no single factor matched the impact of caffeine reduction. Again, it’s not that all those other things are unimportant. On the contrary, I believe that exercise and a balanced diet are critical to optimum health, and I’ve devoted my career to making those goals obtainable. But the truth is, getting people to make significant changes in diet or exercise is extremely difficult. Research shows that even with careful supervision, compliance is well below 30 percent.
On the other hand, getting off caffeine (at least with my Off the Bean program) is relatively easy, and the rewards are often immediate and dramatic. Over 80 percent of the people who’ve tried the Off the Bean program have stuck with it—and have experienced tremendous health benefits as a result!
What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know Can Hurt You
Until now, people had no way of evaluating their caffeine intake and the harm it can do. Remember that the initial stages of caffeine damage are often silent —just like lung damage from smoking or cardiovascular disease from a high-fat diet. Also be aware that the information you need about caffeine is not likely to come from your doctor. Consider the guidelines given to physicians in the medical literature. A typical example appeared in Postgraduate Medicine, in which doctors were advised that caffeine can cause abnormal heart rhythm.
The article, citing a report entitled “Caffeine and Arrhythmias: What Are the Risks?” stated that “about 80% of American adults drink three to four cups of coffee each day.” It then went on to explain that each cup contains between 60 and 150 milligrams of caffeine. The logical conclusion from this information is that many American adults are consuming 500 to 600 milligrams of caffeine from coffee per day. The bullet points of the article inform doctors that:
Point 1: “Consuming less than 300 mg of caffeine per day does not seem likely to produce significant arrhythmias”.
Comment: We’ve already learned that most Americans consume more than 300 milligrams of caffeine per day from coffee alone (remember the six-ounce cup?), not to mention additional caffeine from soft drinks, medications, and other sources. And what exactly is significant arrhythmia? If your heart fails to maintain normal beats, you are in mortal danger, period.
Point 2: “People with underlying heart disease probably should avoid consuming more than 300 mg of caffeine per day since significant increases in arrhythmias have been reported after consumption of higher amounts”.
Comment: Good advice, but (A) people with underlying heart disease often do not know that they have heart disease; (B) people have no way of following this advice since manufacturers are not required to list the amount of caffeine in their products.
Do you see the folly of this approach? First of all, most people already consume over 300 milligrams of caffeine per day. What’s more, the 300-milligram level does not take into consideration the myriad factors that influence how caffeine affects individual people. One person who consumes 300 milligrams of caffeine might only experience disturbed sleep, while another person might experience severe anxiety, depression, or dramatically increased risk for heart disease. Women are affected by caffeine far more than men. Age, overall health, weight, and a host of other lifestyle factors also enter the picture. How can you determine your own personal risk level? You can start by figuring out your caffeine quotient—quotient—exactly how much caffeine you presently consume, and how it is affecting your life.
Is Caffeine Hurting You?
If you are a regular caffeine user, chances are high that the drug is affecting the quality of your life right now. You probably depend on the stimulating “lift” to energize your body and clear your mind. Your total daily intake of caffeine comes from a variety of sources—not just coffee, but also tea, cocoa, soft drinks, medications, and chocolate. In fact, if you’re like most Americans, you find it hard to get through the day without multiple hits of caffeine. You are probably addicted. If you object to that statement, take a few minutes to complete the following self- tests. You have nothing to lose. If caffeine’s not a problem for you, great. But if it is, confronting the addiction is the only way to do something about it. This book will help you evaluate the effects caffeine has on your life and, most importantly, show you how to achieve far greater levels of energy and vitality without the drug.
Test I: Your Caffeine Intake
In the first column, enter the number of servings, then multiply to get your total caffeine intake from each source. Figures given for coffee and tea are based on a six-ounce serving. Remember that most coffee mugs or cups hold twelve to fourteen ounces. A “large” coffee cup holds twenty ounces or more, so be sure to calculate accordingly. Amounts of caffeine listed for each type of beverage are averages; variations may occur from product to product.
The amount of caffeine in common medications may surprise you. However, according to the FDA, nearly 1,000 prescription drugs and 2,000 over-the-counter medications contain caffeine—anywhere from 30 to 200 milligrams per tablet or capsule.
YOUR CAFFEINE QUOTIENT
“Caffeinism” is a state of chronic toxicity resulting from excess caffeine consumption. Caffeinism usually combines physical addiction with a wide
range of debilitating effects, most notably anxiety, irritability, mood swings, sleep disturbance, depression, and fatigue. Use your “Total Daily Caffeine Intake” from the previous page to determine if you are a victim of caffeinism.
If your caffeine quotient is less than 100 milligrams per day, it is highly unlikely that you are a caffeine addict.
If your total is between 100 and 300 milligrams per day, you’re in the “danger zone.” Disruption of sleep patterns begins at this level, and certain heart disease risk factors may be increased.
If your total is 300 to 600 milligrams per day, you are undoubtedly experiencing some degree of mental and physical addiction to caffeine. Research shows an almost 200 percent increase of risk for ulcers and fibrocystic disease at this level.
Intake of 600 to 900 milligrams per day indicates almost certain addiction. At this level, your mood and energy levels are severely affected. Research suggests that your risk of heart attack may be twice that of non-caffeine users. If you are a pre-menopausal woman, your chance of maintaining optimal iron levels is slim.
At 900 milligrams or more per day, you’re a caffeine addict—hook, line, and sinker. At this level of dependency, all heart disease risk factors are significantly increased, as are the risks for stroke, psychological disorders, and gastrointestinal disease. You may need medical help to kick the habit.
“Although infrequently diagnosed, caffeinism is thought to afflict as many as one person in ten of the population”.
Test II: Caffeine’s Effects on Your Body
Do you experience any of the following on a recurrent or frequent basis?
If you have 6 to 7 “yes” answers, caffeine is a problem for you. Decreasing or eliminating caffeine intake will significantly improve your health. If you have 8 to 10 “yes” answers, caffeine is a serious problem. Decreasing or eliminating caffeine is an urgent need. If you have 12 or more “yes” answers, your caffeine intake represents a critical health risk that may actually decrease your life expectancy. Act now to take control of your life and health.
Dr. Fred Sheftell, director of the New England Center for Headache, states: “It’s not unusual for us to find people who are taking 1,000 mg of caffeine or more per day.” He notes that adverse side effects have been reported from as little as 250 milligrams per day.
Test III: Caffeine’s Effects on Your Nervous System
Caffeine has been found to impair motor steadiness in neuropsychological tests. Here is a simple way to evaluate this effect without expensive laboratory procedures: Sitting up in a chair, extend your arm straight out in front of you, locking the elbow, palm down. Look at the tips of your fingers. If there is any noticeable trembling, chances are that caffeine has already damaged your nervous system.
In Chapters 3 and 4, we will discuss how caffeine disrupts biochemical message centers in the brain known as receptors. Human and animal data suggest that dopamine and benzodiazepine receptors are involved in hand tremor, and the condition is common in both habitual and casual coffee drinkers. The good news is that this damage can be repaired, but not until you get your caffeine intake under control. In Chapter 10, you’ll see that it’s not as difficult as you might think.
Test IV: Caffeine’s Effects on Your Muscles
Muscle tension is hard to evaluate. Many times, we don’t even know we’re tense until we get a headache, or someone places their hands on our shoulders and we wince. Tension in the jaw muscles, however, is fairly easy to measure.
1- Open your mouth as wide as you can, then close slowly. Do you hear any popping or cracking? This is often a sign of problems with jaw alignment known as temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD). TMJD affects millions of Americans, contributes to headache and a raft of other disorders, and is positively associated with stress and caffeine intake. That’s because caffeine and stress cause a tightening of the jaw muscles that contributes to misalignment of the jaw on the skull. Teeth clenching and grinding (bruxism) at night are also related to stress and caffeine.
2- Now open your mouth wide again, and this time try to insert your first three fingers held vertically. (Or use a wine cork.) This is another simple test to see if you are holding significant tension in your jaw muscles. Reduced jaw mobility is a classic sign of chronic tension exacerbated by caffeine.
The Four Warning Signs of Caffeine Dependence
The most common response I hear from people who have eliminated caffeine from their lives is their surprise at how much better they feel. I know what you’re thinking: “How could they feel better? Every time I try to quit coffee I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.” That’s because caffeine is an addictive drug with a very well-defined withdrawal syndrome. I’m not going to split hairs about whether people are truly addicted or just dependent on the drug.
Studies have found conclusively that caffeine produces classic signs of addiction. And you don’t have to consume huge amounts of coffee to become addicted. In one recent study, the median daily intake of the caffeine-dependent group was 357 milligrams, and 19 percent of them consumed less than the U.S. daily average. Here is how the scientists conducting that study made the diagnosis of caffeine dependence. See if it describes how you feel.
Reducing the dose or stopping the drug altogether produces well-defined symptoms, which may include:
Increased muscle tension
Ninety-four percent of the caffeine-dependent subjects experienced some of these withdrawal symptoms.
Researchers defined dependence as consuming the beverage “despite knowledge of a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by caffeine”. Ninety-four percent of the caffeine-dependent subjects experienced this behavior.
- INABILITY TO QUIT
This was defined as a “persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control use”. Eighty-one percent of the caffeine-dependent group found that they were unable to reduce or discontinue drinking caffeine-containing beverages.
The body develops a tolerance for caffeine so that greater amounts are required to produce the same level of stimulation. Seventy-five percent of the caffeine-dependent group reported tolerance.
Caffeinism: It Could Happen to You!
In over a decade of practice as a clinical nutritionist, I have seen firsthand, with thousands of clients, that caffeine is a health hazard. Anxiety, muscle aches, PMS, headaches, heartburn, insomnia, and irritability are the most common symptoms, and they can usually be lessened or eliminated simply by avoiding caffeine. That’s good news for most people. However, if that’s all caffeine has done to you, you’re lucky. Others are not so fortunate. Like the woman whose baby was born with a heart defect because no one told her to avoid caffeine during pregnancy.
Or the man who underwent three surgical operations and nearly had his stomach removed because his ulcers would not heal. No one told him to avoid coffee. And what about people misdiagnosed as neurotic or even psychotic, who spend years and small fortunes in psychotherapy—all because no one asked them about their caffeine intake? To those who claim that caffeine is harmless, I say look at the facts—and, more important, look at your life. Your health is your most valuable possession, and life is short. I am convinced that to enjoy life to its fullest we must maintain health on three levels: physical, mental, and emotional. At each one of these three levels, caffeine is an adversary.
Caffeine versus Physical Vitality
On the physical level, we need a steady source of energy to accomplish our goals. Nothing is more frustrating than to be motivated, to have a great plan, but no energy to carry it out. When I ask patients about their reasons for drinking coffee, the most common response is: “I need the energy.” The irony is that caffeine is a major cause of fatigue. Depending on caffeine to get you through the day might work for a while, but in the long run it will make your dreams harder and harder to achieve. To see what I mean, try this experiment. Clench your fist tightly. Hold it closed and very tight for thirty seconds. What happens to your arm and hand? They get tired. This exercise illustrates what happens to your body when you ingest caffeine.
First you feel strong, but soon afterwards you feel weak. That’s because caffeine doesn’t give you energy—it creates tension, and the ultimate result of tension is always fatigue. You felt the result of squeezing your fist, which only involves a few muscles. Imagine the energy drain created by muscle tension throughout your body after ingesting caffeine.
Caffeine versus Mental Vitality
On the mental level, we need to be consistently alert and aware to function effectively in our daily lives. Caffeine puts you on a roller-coaster ride where mental clarity alternates with periods of confusion, depression, and lethargy. You’ll also learn that caffeine does nothing to enhance learning, but actually impairs memory and cognition. When patients relate their coffee stories to me, a common pattern usually emerges. They started drinking coffee occasionally, either as a morning “wake-up” or to stay up late.
Gradually, they found themselves reaching for coffee or cola beverages throughout the day just to stay alert. In time, the habit became an addiction, with their only dependable mental energy coming from the coffeepot. This is sad, because the coffee habit has a steep downside. We pay dearly for those “borrowed” periods of clarity by sacrificing our true mental vitality.
“There is no doubt that the excitation of the central nervous system produced by large amounts of caffeine is followed by depression”.
Vitality Is Our Birthright
What we must remember is that vitality is not something that disappears in adulthood. We throw it away by becoming sedentary and damaging our bodies and minds with caffeine. We set ourselves up for a life of ups and downs, when each of us is capable of maintaining a high level of physical and mental vitality well into our advanced years. A healthy child doesn’t require caffeine to get out of bed in the morning, and there is no reason why you can’t experience the same boundless energy of your youth!
But first you must stop punishing your body and mind with caffeine. Is it worth it? The answer is yes. Patients who have followed the Off the Bean program have found their bodies healthier and minds sharper at fifty-five than they were at twenty-five. Of course, total health also requires emotional stability, peace of mind, and an optimistic attitude. The effects of caffeine diminish these qualities. Relationships with friends, partners, and co-workers depend on harmony, which is destroyed by anxiety, irritability, and tension.
Caffeine not only intensifies the stress in our lives, but makes us less able to cope. If I had a magic wand, I would instantly remove the stress from my clients’ lives. Until that magic wand appears, I will do everything I can to help them control their caffeine intake. For some, regaining mental vitality after caffeine means learning a relaxation technique. For others, psychological counseling is recommended. But everyone needs to start by taking a close look at their caffeine intake.
Caffeine and Anxiety
For five years, I worked in a team practice with physicians and psychotherapists. Often, the psychological evaluation would include one or more anxiety syndromes and the recommendation was for counseling. I would point out that the person was consuming excessive amounts of caffeine and request a trial month off caffeine prior to therapy sessions. In about 50 percent of cases, the anxiety syndrome would resolve with caffeine withdrawal alone. Of course, I recognize that counseling can play a vital role in restoring wholeness and peace of mind. It’s just that counseling a patient for anxiety who is drinking coffee is like trying to fill a leaky bucket.
Caffeine and Alcohol: Psychoactive Cousins
The undeniable fact is that caffeine is a psychoactive drug, affecting mind, mood, and behavior. While the effects of caffeine are obvious but not always recognized, the effects of alcohol, another psychoactive substance, are easy to spot. We all know how intoxicated individuals behave. When they are involved in automobile accidents, their blood alcohol is measured and they may face criminal charges. No one would think of measuring blood caffeine levels after an accident because there is no data to suggest that caffeine impairs performance.
I would like to suggest, however, that the biochemical and behavioral changes brought about by caffeine may very well contribute to auto accidents. Caffeine disturbs normal decision-making processes. Is it far-fetched to assert that ill-advised lane changes, tailgating, speeding, rage, and stress contribute to auto accidents?. Watch your driving the next time you’re “wired” on caffeine and tell me I’m wrong.
There Is Life after Caffeine
Life after caffeine does not have to be dull. In fact, there are delicious and very satisfying alternatives, and I’m not talking about pallid teas, decaf, and instant coffee “substitutes.” You’ll learn about rich, robust, and healthful beverages that brew like coffee but contain no caffeine. Likewise, life after coffee does not have to be lethargic. Breakthrough research in human metabolism and brain biochemistry has made it possible for you to enjoy greater energy and alertness without coffee than you ever experienced when you were “on the drug”.
There are natural alternatives to caffeine that actually enhance metabolic energy production while decreasing the tension in your body. The difference, once you make the switch, is astounding. You can repair your nervous system, manage stress, and improve your energy production naturally. Finally, you’ll learn how to obtain the quantity and quality of energy you need for the rest of your long, healthy life. You’ll discover that life without caffeine has the potential to be better than you ever dreamed possible!