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Mixed Messages: Caffeine | Dr. Weston

How would you like to walk into your teenager’s room and see a parent’s nightmare on their desk—a stash of white crystalline powder? Half in a panic, you put some on your finger and taste it. It’s bitter. You get a sample to a lab and the report that comes back reads like this:

  • Chemical stimulant named trimethylxanthine.
  • Shares a number of traits with amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin.
  • Causes dependence and addiction.
  • Withdrawals cause a medical syndrome which includes anxiety, depression, irritability, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and headaches.

Sound dangerous? Then you find out it’s the world’s most popular psychoactive drug according to John Hopkins University. In fact, 90% of Americans use it daily. The more common name for trimethylxanthine is caffeine. You don’t have to stage an intervention for your teenager after all.

mixed_messages_caffeine_picCaffeine is one of those things that can be both good and bad. You’ll have to be the one who decides which way the balance tips for you and your case. To help in that process, here are a few of the positives.

  1. Occurs naturally in many plants.
  2. Boosts energy, speeds metabolism, and heightens alertness
  3. Fights migraine headaches and kick starts other medications
  4. According to Johns Hopkins University, has potential benefits in the treatment of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases along with some forms of cancer
  5. Decreases cirrhosis of the liver, colon cancer, and actually increases the general feeling of pleasure by elevating dopamine levels, according to a Harvard University study

You’ve got to admit this list is pretty impressive. On the other end of the scale, regular intake of caffeine can cause some problems too:

  1. Caffeinism: a syndrome that includes nervousness, irritability, heart palpitations, headache, fidgeting, muscle twitching, and insomnia
  2. Constricts blood vessels, thus increasing blood pressure and heart rate
  3. Pregnant and nursing women are cautioned to limit its use
  4. Increases intraocular pressure in people with glaucoma
  5. Can cause gastrointestinal disturbance and food cravings in some
  6. Is actually a form of self-medicating
  7. Proven to be habit forming and addictive, which also may lead to withdrawal symptoms when go without

caffeine_in_moderation_picTaking this all into consideration, caffeine should be consumed in moderation and probably not within 6 hours of bedtime. Decaf coffee does contain caffeine, but only about 1/8 of what’s found in normal coffee.

There are some rather easy ways to tell if caffeine is a problem for you:

  • You just might be a caffeine addict if you think the coffee bean is a vegetable.
  • You just might be a caffeine addict if your coffee pot is by your bed and your alarm clock is in the kitchen.
  • You just might be a caffeine addict if you go to AA meetings just for the free coffee.
  • You just might be a caffeine addict if you sleep with your eyes open.

Just remember caffeine is a drug, not a vitamin.

Learn more about Dr. Steve Weston

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