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Is Caffeine a Health Culprit?

Coffee is a very popular beverage today. In fact, in most major cities, it is practically impossible to walk a block without seeing a coffee shop on the corner.
( [email protected] ) Jun 22, 2006 11:31 PM EDT

This article was brought to you by Truestar Health: The World's Most Comprehensive Nutrition, Fitness & Healthy Lifestyle Resource

Coffee is a very popular beverage today. In fact, in most major cities, it is practically impossible to walk a block without seeing a coffee shop on the corner.

Coffee is enjoyed as a drink by millions of people worldwide and as a result, coffee manufacturing and commercial houses have become a 60 billion dollar industry. Knowing this, it is no wonder that more research on coffee is being performed.

Coffee contains caffeine, a nerve stimulant that acts to keep you awake and alert. It also increases your concentration and mental and physical performance. Since caffeine influences the body in a number of different ways and because a certain portion of the population may be particularly sensitive to these effects, some people have attributed various health problems, such as insomnia, as a response to drinking coffee.

A recent study involving teenagers found that fatigue in the morning and sleep difficulties were experienced more commonly in the adolescents who reported a high caffeine intake. Another study assessed whether people suffering from insomnia were more sensitive to caffeine or not. The end result was that the people with insomnia did not experience a deep sleep and even slept (in total) less than the people without any sleep problems, indicating that insomnia sufferers have a higher sensitivity to the effects of caffeine.

A more quantitative way of assessing the effects of coffee on sleep is to measure the levels of melatonin produced between coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers. One study did just this and was able to confirm that coffee consumption interferes with sleep quantity and quality as it was found that caffeine consumption decreased the amount of melatonin in the body.

In some individuals, the effects of caffeine can last up to 20 hours. This means that some people will have disturbed sleep patterns even when their last cup of coffee was in the morning. On the other hand, other individuals can have many cups of coffee before bed and then immediately fall asleep. Coffee can bring about a peaceful state of mind and for these people; this peaceful state of mind is relaxing, allowing them to fall asleep. More research needs to be done in order to fully explain the wide range of effects of coffee on different individuals.

Eliminating coffee can also pose many problems for people with insomnia and sensitive people. Withdrawal symptoms are common among people who stop drinking coffee. These symptoms include anxiety, agitation and headaches, health factors that all contribute to a poor sleep.

Sources of Caffeine

Besides regular coffee, black tea, green tea, cocoa, chocolate, energy drinks, some soft drinks, and many over-the-counter pharmaceuticals also contain caffeine. Even decaffeinated coffee contains a small amount of caffeine (approximately 3 mg per cup compared to 60 to 85 mg in a regular cup of instant or filtered coffee). Decaffeinated coffee is produced by one of two methods. Caffeine can be chemically extracted with the use of chemical solvents, which must be completely washed out before the beans are dried. Alternatively, using the Swiss water process, the beans are steamed then the caffeine-rich outer layers are scraped away. The Swiss water process is considered the most desirable method.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Caffeine

Although caffeine appears to be the culprit with respect to sleep disturbances, coffee has shown to have other effects on the body. Specifically in postmenopausal women, moderate coffee consumption (3 cups) was found to lead to bone loss. Interestingly, smoking can increase caffeine metabolism meaning that smokers who use caffeine-containing drug products may require higher amounts of caffeine in order to achieve the same effectiveness in a non-smoker. Currently, lots of research studies have been looking at the amount of antioxidants in coffee and the positive effects coffee may have. One cup of coffee is only five calories (without cream and sugar), contains 0.2 grams of protein, 0.9 grams of carbohydrates and 0 grams of fat. While coffee contains antioxidants, there are many other sources of foods and beverages with higher concentrations of antioxidants that will not keep you up at night. Coffee is a nerve stimulant and can be very helpful in times of fatigue and in situations when we need to be alert. However, be wary if you become dependent on the drink and if you have to drink more coffee on a regular basis to produce the same effects. It is recommended to avoid coffee with certain medical conditions as angina, anxiety, certain cancers, fibrocystic breast disease, stomach problems, high cholesterol and osteoporosis.

Skip the Latte or Go for a Second Cup?

The next time you are considering whether to have the French Dark roast, Columbian La Verada, a cappuccino, an espresso or an extra-foam-no-fat latte, you may want to consider the effects that coffee may be having on you, particularly if you are having difficulty sleeping. Likewise, if your body is particularly sensitive to the effects of coffee, be aware that even one cup of coffee in the morning may be affecting a good night sleep.

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