Good to the Last Drop in Moderation

By Dr. Gerard Muraida

Caffeine is considered the most widely consumed psychoactive drug in the world. It belongs to a chemical class of stimulants called methylxanthines, which exert stimulatory effects on the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and musculoskeletal system. Most people get a daily caffeine dose from their morning cup of Joe, but that isn’t the only place you may find caffeine. Foods such as chocolate, as well as energy drinks, tea, and even some medications also contain caffeine.

There are positive and negatives to using caffeine. On the one hand, it may reduce drowsiness, improve reaction time, and concentration. It can even improve aerobic and anerobic performance. On the other, caffeine accelerates food transit time in the intestines and may cause diarrhea. Gastroesophageal reflux may also occur, leading to heartburn and possible esophageal lining damage. Too much caffeine can lead to anxiety, nervousness, and a jittery sensation. Palpitations and elevated blood pressure may result from excess caffeine. Although the rise in blood pressure is transitory, repeated excessive intake may lead to hypertension-related illness, such as stroke or heart attack.

Caffeine can be found in some migraine and muscle relaxant medications. Some narcotic analgesics also add caffeine to their formula. Abrupt cessation of caffeine intake may lead to a withdrawal phenomenon.

So, what is the most appropriate amount of caffeine for a person to consume per day?

Harvard psychiatrist Uma Maidoo studied this question. Her conclusion is three cups of coffee per day. She studied close to 700 senior men for 10 years. The coffee-drinking group had 50 percent less cognitive decline compared to the non-coffee drinkers. The men drinking three cups of coffee daily had the least amount of decline. In a 20-year Harvard study of over 200,000 patients (men and women), coffee drinkers had better longevity than non-coffee drinkers. The longest- living individuals drank between three and five cups of coffee per day, or approximately 300 to 500 milligrams of caffeine.

Now before you run to the nearest barista, there are a few things to consider. If you are not a coffee drinker, ask your health care provider if coffee or caffeine can be added safely to your daily routine. If you are a caffeinated individual, evaluate your intake. Be aware of how much caffeine is in your food, drinks, and perhaps your medicines. A seven-ounce cup of drip coffee contains between 80 and 175 milligrams of caffeine. A two-ounce cup of espresso has approximately 100 milligrams of caffeine. A 1 ½-ounce Hershey’s chocolate bar contains 31 milligrams of caffeine.

Remember that caffeine overdose can occur and cause very uncomfortable symptoms. However, a lethal dose of caffeine ingestion would be 50 to 100 cups of coffee.

The best part of waking up each morning is waking up! How you percolate along is up to you and your health care provider.

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