The Ups and Downs of Caffeine

Ups and Downs of Caffeine

Rodale News

When you’re dead tired, you wonder what will help in keeping you alert at crucial moments? The first thing you reach for is caffeine.

A mild stimulant of the central nervous system, it revs up the heart, relaxes smooth muscles, increases stomach secretions, and has a diuretic effect.

On the positive side of the ledger

Caffeine can increase levels of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) like norepinephrine, acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, and glutamate; these changes in turn increase alertness, attention, concentration, mood, and memory abilities and decrease fatigue. Caffeine can also give you a slight boost in metabolic rate. Another positive note, regular caffeine consumption has been found to reduce the risks of Parkinson’s disease and type 2 diabetes.

Caffeine becomes an energy-sapping substance when you rely on it. It may increase blood pressure and cortisol secretion. This can cause shaky hands and anxiety, and contribute to insomnia. Plus, if you’re a java junkie who relies on caffeine its a problem. If you rely on caffeine to keep you going, the continuous rise and fall in stimulating effects are often accompanied by mild dehydration.

It’s a pattern that can lead to crashing and burning in the energy department.

Believe me—I’ve been there! During my second year of medical school, I built up such an extreme tolerance to caffeine. Within an hour or two of having it, I would experience symptoms of withdrawal, including fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and headaches.

When you get an energy boost after drinking coffee, it’s not real energy. It’s the effect, and it’s short-lived. When the effects wear off, you’ll probably feel exhausted and maybe hungry. At that point, you might decide you need more. Although, you might choose to eat but end up overeating.  Either way, an unhealthy cycle begins again, one that can lead to further energy drain.

The take-home message: Use caffeine wisely, and pay attention to your total intake. Many women are fine with having coffee in the morning. They use caffeine occasionally as a temporary stimulant to increase alertness before an important meeting. If you find that you need additional pick-me-ups throughout the day, it’s time to look at other energy-boosting measures. For example, take a brisk walk or a short nap, sniff a scent like a peppermint, or splash water on your face. Having more caffeine isn’t the answer.