If you would rather wake up to Mr. Coffee than to your dearly beloved, you’re probably hooked on caffeine. Scientists have officially proclaimed you an addict if you habitually consume more than 250 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day, the amount in just two cups of coffee. If you’re an addict, you’re not alone. Caffeine is the most widely consumed drug—that’s right, drug—in North America, rivaled only by nicotine and alcohol. Americans drink more coffee than any other people in the world. The upside to all this caffeine consumption is that coffee gets us moving every morning. Low to moderate doses (30 to 200 mg) boost energy, wakefulness, and even improve some aspects of physical and mental performance.
Coffee: Health Impact
The downside is that caffeine is an addictive drug. Missing a single coffee break can send you into a well-defined withdrawal syndrome with symptoms like lethargy, irritability and a killer headache. Caffeine is a fairly potent stimulant, and drinking it too close to bedtime may cost you a few Zs. A single cup of coffee boosts your metabolic rate and increases blood pressure, heart rate and adrenaline levels. The paradoxical sense of relaxation you get with that first cup each morning results from the undoing of the early symptoms of withdrawal. Coffee seems like a necessity, but there’s no recommended daily requirement for it, and it hasn’t been recognized as an official food group. In fact, coffee interferes with the absorption of important nutrients in your diet.
Caffeine prevents your kidneys from reabsorbing calcium, pulling it away from your bones and rerouting it to your toilet. If you want to replace the calcium wasted by a single cup of coffee, you’ll need to add a half-cup of milk to each serving. Drinking coffee costs you iron, too. Compounds in coffee called polyphenols bind iron in the digestive tract and prevent its absorption. Drinking coffee around mealtime can reduce iron absorption from food by almost 40 percent.
Coffee and the Heart
The caffeine in coffee has been accused of far more serious offenses, including causing cancers of the breast, colon, and pancreas, but these reports appear to be groundless. There is, however, some hard evidence linking coffee to high cholesterol. Hard-core coffee drinkers can lower their cholesterol by as much as 13 percent just by giving up their Java. Coffee is thought to play an important role in cardiovascular disease. Drinking three to four cups of coffee a day may bump your risk of heart attack to twice the average, and drinking more than five cups a day can drive your risk to nearly three times the average.
Coffee and Sex
As far as your sexuality is concerned, a single cup of coffee or caffeine-containing beverage may give you more energy and stamina for sexual activity, thereby enhancing your performance and overall enjoyment. When athletes drink three or four cups of coffee about an hour before they compete, they can outlast caffeine-free competitors by up to 20 minutes. This affect on athletic performance is real—so real that the International Olympic Committee has classified caffeine as a “restricted drug.” Competitors are allowed to use caffeine, as long as they don’t overdo it.
The rest of us can benefit from a little moderation as well. Consuming too much caffeine on a regular basis leads to chronic over-stimulation of the adrenal glands, flooding the body and brain with hormones normally produced in times of stress. These hormones are known to negatively impact libido and sexual performance.
If you’re like most coffee addicts, you probably have no idea how much caffeine you consume on a daily basis. Cup for cup, brewed coffee is the richest source of caffeine. And remember, a cup means just that—a measuring cup—not that two-gallon plastic monstrosity you got for your last birthday. One cup of brewed coffee has 80 to 180 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, depending on how strong you make it. Instant coffee provides about 60 to 100 mg of caffeine, and tea has 25 to 75 mg per cup. The caffeine content of a 12 ounce soda ranges from 30 to 60 mg, and even decaffeinated coffee isn’t totally caffeine free: most brands have one to five mg of caffeine per cup.
If you need a calculator to determine your caffeine intake, there’s no doubt you’re hooked. As with other drugs, too much caffeine can be dangerous, but you’d have to drink about 75 cups of coffee at your next coffee break to sustain a lethal dose. If you’re getting close, maybe it’s time to think about cutting down.
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