Coffee: Good and Bad News
The scientists call it 1,3,7 Trimethylxanthine.
We call it "Java," or "Joe."
It doesn't take much effort to appreciate the place that this drug, caffeine, holds in our culture. Coffee houses sit on every corner. Convenience stores promote drinks and shots that promise a boost in energy. Social get-togethers, business meetings and romantic engagements happen around a cup of brewed caffeinated beverage.
But what is it about this drink?
What does it do for us that makes us such faithful consumers?
This blog will explore the good and the bad sides of caffeine.
The Good and Bad News About Coffee
Many people are unaware that caffeine is a drug and has medicinal properties.
Coffee as a Treatment for Asthma
The Good News: Caffeine, it's derivatives and it's like molecules are helpful in the relief of airway spasms caused by asthma.
The Bad News: Though not in standard use due to the more refined treatments that can be aerosolized, caffeine offers a home remedy available in a pinch if that inhaler can't be found.
Coffee as a Treatment for Constipation
The Good News: Caffeine can help with constipation as it increases motility in the gastrointestinal tract.
The Bad News: If there are no bowel issues, however, it can cause cramping. Caffeine also causes increased acid production in the stomach and can cause heartburn.
Coffee as Treatment for Fluid Retention
The Good News: Caffeine is a diuretic. In other words, it stimulates the kidney to draw fluid out of the body. This can be helpful in the event of some mild swelling in the ankles or bloating related to the menstrual cycle.
The Bad News: It is not a treatment for significant fluid retention (edema). On the other side of things, caffeine can lead to dehydration and promote sore, spasmed and knotted muscles. This, in turn, can lead to muscle injury.
Coffee as a Treatment for Headaches
The Good News: For headaches, migraine headaches in particular, caffeine offers help. It is an active ingredient in some headache formulations.
The Bad News: Watch out! There is another side to headaches and caffeine. A repeated headache that is only helped by caffeine is likely a rebound phenomenon from coming off the effects of the caffeine. In other words, caffeine is the problem and not the solution. In this case, the cycle of daily caffeine needs to be broken to become free of the headaches.
Coffee as a Performance Enhancer
Studies on caffeine as an enhancer to our performance are varied.
The Mixed News: One study involved treatment with caffeine vs. placebo and looked at basic math performance, response time, logical reasoning and hand-eye coordination. Interestingly, only hand-eye coordination was improved in the caffeinated group. These results were echoed in a study that looked at sports performance. This study examined the effects of a beverage that contained carbohydrate and caffeine vs. a placebo beverage.
The Good News: Results did show improved performance (coordination and stamina) in subjects given the test beverage.
Most people out there, though, are using caffeine as that daily cup of coffee in the morning to get them going. Are we better off with this daily dose?
Most studies show not.
A recent study got people off caffeine for a spell and then administered caffeine or a placebo. The alertness in both groups was the same. The authors of the study hypothesize that the frequent coffee drinkers develop a tolerance to both the anxiety-producing effects and the stimulatory effects of caffeine. While frequent consumers may feel more alert with coffee, evidence suggests that this is actually merely the reversal of the fatiguing effects of acute caffeine withdrawal.
Despite what you feel when you use caffeine, large doses used to push off our body's need for sleep comes at a price. It is rather like buying something with a credit card- you may get what you want now, but the bill will come later. Sleep will need to be made up for proper body function.
The bottom line on caffeine:
Use caffeine if it helps and gives you the alertness and stimulation that you desire. Use caution with the daily caffeine use. A recurrent morning headache is a red flag that you are getting too much caffeine. Consider asking that love interest out for a salad in lieu of the cliche cup of coffee.