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Are Caffeinated Beverages Efficient Thirst‑Quenchers?

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Despite what you may see on Coca-Cola or Starbucks commercials, caffeinated beverages are inefficient thirst-quenchers. Your healthcare profes­sional likely advises drinking around 8 cups of water per day. Consuming popular caffeinated beverages increases your water deficit.

Some medicines and nutritional supplements for weight loss also include caffeine. You might be one who suffers from chronic migraines or vertigo. Does caffeine exacerbate or reduce symptoms?

Caffeine is a chemical with many biological reactions. People tend to focus only on the one they favor. For example, you may hear, “I can’t function until I have my morning coffee” or “I need a sports drink so I can focus.” This scientific over­view will help you put caffeine in proper context. Then you can determine whether there is a need to cut back or eliminate it from your diet.

The Chemical Process

I love fresh-brewed black coffee. But I recognize that caffeine is both a stimulant and sedative. Caffeine is also a diuretic. This means it drains fluids from the body, drying skin and causing other complications. With dehydration as the common denomin­ator, caffeine intoler­ance can mimic symptoms of a hangover.

Though dosages vary, caffeine can affect the human body in the same way as nicotine and cocaine. Taken in suffi­ciently small doses, these methyl­xan­thines, or plant alka­loids, alter the function of the nervous system.

The human body may adapt to the neuro­toxic alkaloids, continuing to work, seemingly unaffected, despite inter­ference. It does so simply by increasing produc­tion of indi­genous adenosine (a-DEN-oh-seen).

Such adapta­tion, however, can result in painful with­drawal head­aches during cessa­tion or resump­tion as neuro­chemicals readjust. In the absence of caffeine, a regular user is over­sensitive to adenosine and under­sensitive to excita­tory neuro­trans­mitters. A caffeine consumer adapts to caffeine exposure but not to its deficiency.

Although caffeine fulfills some of the criteria for drug dependence and shares with amphe­ta­mine and cocaine a certain specifi­city of action on the cerebral dopa­mi­ner­gic system, it does not act on the dopa­miner­gic struc­tures related to reward, motiva­tion, and addic­tion.

The molecularly similar shape of caffeine allows it to fit into and block adenosine receptors that are embedded within the surface mem­branes of neurons. “If adenosine is locked up [with a stress response from caffeine], nothing keeps the nervous system from getting too excited at a cellular level,” says James D. Lane, PhD, professor of medical psychology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and a long-time caffeine researcher.

Adenosine is a neuro­modular that regulates sero­tonin, norepine­phrine, dopa­mine, and acety­choline. Neurolo­gists or psycholo­gists might, therefore, treat migraines with sero­tonin and norepine­phrine uptake inhibi­tors. (These are also prescribed as anti­depres­sants.) Interest­ingly, dizzi­ness and head­ache are included in the list of possible drug side effects.

High doses of caffeine induce negative effects such as anxiety, rest­less­ness, insomnia, and tachycardia. Adenosine supple­ments could be prescribed to treat supra­ven­tri­cular tachy­cardia (irregular heartbeat) or off-label conditions.

By blocking adenosine, caffeine reverses the effect, causing pain where it is normally suppressed.

Depending upon where it is located, adenosine functions as a tran­quilizer, pain­killer, or even pain inducer. By blocking adenosine, caffeine reverses the effect, causing pain where it is normally suppressed and exciting neuro­chemicals that should be tranquilized. Adenosine is a vasodilator, which can bring on peripheral pain. When blood volume is reduced, less oxygen reaches the brain, triggering migraines. Caffeine is also a vaso­dilator, constricting oxygen-carrying arteries.

Migraines and Caffeine

Caffeine over­consumption or with­drawal can cause migraines. Under­standing how caffeine interacts with adeno­sine, provides rationale for the use of caffeine in migraine-formula pain killers. The goal is to block and reverse the cause of pain. This creates a conun­drum if the migraine is caused by caffeine in the first place.

A high caffeine dosage is considered to be 250–500 mg (3-6 cups of coffee). Consumption of 500–1000 mg can be life-threatening. But a so-called high dose varies between individuals as neuro­chemicals become deregulated. Some­times people who formally consumed relatively high amounts of caffeine can develop a sensi­tivity after a period of abstinence. Neuro­transmit­ters malfunc­tion, and those malfunc­tions generate migraine symptoms.

Average Caffeine in 8-Ounce Beverages
  • Decaf Brewed Coffee: 2–5 mg
  • Hot Chocolate: 3–32 mg
  • Cola: 24–46 mg
  • Green Tea: 25–29 mg
  • Black Tea: 25–48 mg
  • Energy Drinks: 27–164 mg
  • Expresso (1 oz): 47–64 mg
  • Brewed Coffee: 95–165 mg

A shortage of serotonin receptor activation prevents serotonin from appro­priately blocking pain. A shortage of acetylcholine, a neuro­transmitter essential to vision, in the retinas may cause the visual disturbances associated with migraine. A dopa­mine short­fall may cause the emotional and behavioral effects associated with migraine. A norepine­phrine shortage causes the symptoms of sympa­thetic hypo­function associated with primary head­ache.

Caffeine Overlooked as Pain and Disequilibrium Contributor

The news is not entirely bleak for caffeine. It is a potent stimulant that may increase productivity. To some people, nutrition is incomplete without caffeine. Studies suggest that it can improve memory, decrease fatigue, and improve your mental functioning. Coffee contains niacin and antioxi­dants; it has been associ­ated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and may be used as prophylactic for cardio­vascular disease. Green tea protects against various cancers.

Practically every­one drinks coffee in the morning. Caffeine-packed energy drinks are consumed through­out the day. Caffeine is found in green tea, choco­late, and cola soft drinks. In a 2005 survey of the U.S. general popula­tion, 87 percent of 18,081 subjects reported dietary caffeine intake and 71 percent said they drank coffee.

With such wide­spread use, most people—including some physicians—find it difficult to believe that caffeine could be causing migraines and dis­equili­brium in select patients, while other patients who consum­e higher doses appear unaffected. Migraines can be heredi­tary or an underlying psychosis may be suspected.

Isolating Caffeine As a Health Problem

There can be several migraine exacer­bators; some only trigger a reaction when combined with another, for example, caffeine and stress or choco­late with nuts. It is wise to first check with your doctor to rule out other causes for chronic head­aches such as tumors and aneurisms.

Caffeinated Beverage Health Dangers

Blood tests can identify food allergies. A way to personally deter­mine if you have a caffeine sensitivity (or addiction) is to pick a time when you have a few of days off from work and go “cold turkey for a day or two.”

Stop consuming caffeine; drink water or perhaps go on a natural juice cleanse, if approved by your health care provider and follow with probio­tics. There may be some withd­rawal symp­toms for a couple of days. Cessa­tion can even cause migraines.

You may find that you are not addicted and can function well without caffeine. In some cases you might need to wean yourself off with tea. After absti­nence for 90 days or longer, find another appro­priate time when mental acuity may not be required. (Perhaps a long weekend.)

Drink two 16 oz glasses of caffeinated iced tea or two 8 oz cups of coffee and see how you feel the next couple of days. If there is no effect with two servings, pick a different week­end and try four servings.

If you feel head­aches, develop extra-dry skin, lose equili­brium or have diges­tive distur­bances, a possible trigger is evident. Because caf­feine may be present in other food­stuffs, the tolerance level is not an exact science. Endeavor to stay far beneath your personal limit or elimi­nate caffeine completely from your diet.

You may later discover that intolerance is reliant upon a secondary factor or a completely different trigger; this can make you doubt your initial con­clusions. Be patient and keep a journal to discuss findings with your health­care provider.

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