Health Beat

Brooke Genkin

I love caffeine – it makes me feel speedy and happy in a way that nothing else can. It might therefore shock you to learn that I recently made a vow to remain caffeine-free. Here’s why I did it and why I think you should consider it, too.

I never used to drink a lot of soda or coffee, but a few weeks ago I began to drink a half a cup of coffee most mornings. I would order a small and ask for a blend of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. I did not think that amount of caffeine was affecting my daily life too much, so on days when I felt really tired I started allowing myself to have a full cup of caffeinated coffee.

When I went home for Thanksgiving break I indulged in my new habit a few times. On the morning before I returned to St. Louis, I let myself have two cups of the coffee my mom makes, a delicious but strong brew. That night, even though I felt exhausted, I slept so lightly that when I woke up in the morning I felt as if I had only been asleep for a moment. That’s when I decided I needed to kick my caffeine habit before it really started.

So how does caffeine work? Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it speeds up the processing in the nervous system, heart and respiratory system. It is shaped just like adenosine, a chemical responsible for slowing the brain down. Caffeine fools the body by entering the same neurotransmitters as adenosine so that the adenosine can’t bind. The caffeine then works to replace any feelings of sleepiness with feelings of excitement and stimulation. This explains why people depend on caffeine to feel awake and also why people who are particularly sensitive to caffeine may be unable to fall asleep for several hours after consumption.

If you do drink a lot of caffeinated beverages, you need to realize that even though you feel fine you are still consuming a drug with several side effects. Feelings of anxiety, dizziness and nervousness (including a racing mind, pacing heart and quick, shallow breathing) are all characteristic results of caffeine consumption. In addition, caffeine is a diuretic, which means that it clears your system of liquid. Not only does a diuretic negate the liquid properties of what you just drank, but it also gets rid of what was previously in your system. Thus, caffeinated beverages are likely to leave you feeling thirstier and less hydrated than you felt before consuming the beverage.

If you do choose to drink something caffeinated, make sure you follow it with a tall glass of water to avoid dehydration. This is extremely important for athletes, as dehydration and the resulting loss of calcium and potassium can cause sore muscles and delayed recovery time after exercise.

Just because caffeine is found in food items like tea, soda and chocolate, does not mean that it is perfectly safe, especially when it is consumed in large quantities. I am not suggesting that you quit drinking caffeine cold turkey if you are a regular consumer of caffeinated products. I do, however, recommend that you consider a significant reduction in your caffeine intake. Caffeine is a drug, and being dependent on any drug to get through your daily activities is simply not healthy, regardless of the “quick fix” benefits.

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