Opinion

Booster truths: revealing caffeine’s dark side

Are you one of the millions of people who wake up and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea first thing in the morning? Does that hot beverage help to start your day?

Caffeine in regular coffee and tea is the most common drug in the general food supply and it does a good job of increasing alertness and offering a stimulating boost.

There has been a lot of research into the effects of caffeine and the results are mixed.

In general, for most adults, reasonable amounts of caffeine can be helpful and offer benefits.

Moderate consumption is about four regular (250ml sized) cups of coffee per day, which is the equivalent of 400 mg/day of caffeine. Depending on the size of container you use, this may equate to two large mugs of Tim Hortons or Starbucks (or comparable coffee shop’s brew) daily.

Caffeine can have some negative effects as well as healthful benefits, and therefore, too much caffeine can be problematic. Evidence is mounting that there could be adverse effects on heart health, bone health, behaviour, bowel health, cancer risk and fertility.

For people who have asthma attacks or headaches, caffeine has a positive effect on blood vessels that may be helpful. On the other hand, with the stimulating effects of caffeine, bowels may work overtime to cause disruptions, especially for those who suffer from intestinal problems.

Also, there are links between long-term high caffeine intakes with a decrease in bone health. Taking calcium-rich foods, along with adequate vitamin D is important to protect overall bone strength.

There’s hidden amounts of caffeine in various products, including medications, chocolate, energy drinks and pop. Depending on what you eat/drink and take daily, the accumulated levels you consume may be more than the recommended upper limit of 400 mg. For children, in addition to pregnant and nursing moms, caffeine effects can be harmful.

The amount of caffeine in energy drinks is more than what is recommended for children. Currently, Health Canada states that children aged 12 years and under should have less than 85 mg of caffeine per day depending on their age. This means that one energy drink (ie. Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar, etc.) can easily put children over their restricted caffeine limits.

Too much caffeine can cause nervousness, irritability and sleeping problems. It is not recommended that children and young teenagers use energy drinks.

In addition, mixing energy drinks with alcohol can be a dangerous combination for anyone.

Avoiding caffeine altogether is not necessary and keeping daily amounts to a moderate level may be healthful for many people, so, enjoy that morning brew.

Trying to reduce your caffeine intake?

While moderate amounts of caffeine for adults is reasonable and likely not a health concern, many people who try to cut back may experience side effects, such as headaches and drowsiness when they suddenly stop taking it. Here are some methods to reduce your caffeine intake slowly:

• Mix regular coffee with half decaffeinated coffee.

• Try caffeine-free herbal teas or decaf black or green tea.

• Choose a latte or café-au-lait over black coffee.

• Diluted tea (brewed for less time) has lower levels of caffeine.

• Experiment with grain beverages, such as Ovaltine or Postum.

• Drink hot apple cider.

• Try caffeine-free versions of your favourite carbonated beverages.

 

Sandra Gentleman is a registered dietitian who is passionate about health and wellness. She is co-owner of Canal Beach.

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