Caffeine is a naturally occurring component of many plants. Many of these plants are used to make popular foods and beverages, such as: chocolate, coffee, colas and teas.
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, most people can safely consume 200 to 300 mg of caffeine per day without suffering any ill effects. This amount is equivalent to about two to four cups of brewed coffee per day.
According to the Mayo Foundation, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system. The positive effects include the temporary alleviation of fatigue. The negative effects of caffeine can often be felt as symptoms of withdrawal.
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others. Those who are sensitive to caffeine may experience negative side effects after consuming small amounts. The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research lists these common negative side effects for those who are sensitive to caffeine: anxiety, restlessness, irritability and trouble sleeping. According to the foundation, people who are not used to regularly consuming caffeine are more likely to experience negative side effects.
Caffeine Withdrawal Is an Official Disorder
Based on a 2004 study conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine and partially funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, caffeine withdrawal was officially recognized as a disorder. Caffeine withdrawal is now a proposed diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV).
Results from the study indicated that the higher the caffeine intake, the greater the likelihood of suffering from negative side effects associated with withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing caffeine use.
Common Withdrawal Symptoms
According to researchers in the Johns Hopkins study, the negative side effects of caffeine can often be seen in five groups of common withdrawal symptoms:
2. Drowsiness or fatigue
3. Depression and irritability
4. Difficulty concentrating
5. Flu-like symptoms such as vomiting, nausea and muscle pain or stiffness
Headaches are perhaps the most infamous symptom of caffeine withdrawal. Many avid coffee drinkers have experienced this negative side effect of skipping their regular morning joe.
According to the Mayo Clinic, caffeine blocks receptors in the brain that can dilate blood vessels. This can cause some people to experience headaches. Unless they get their usual dose of caffeine, headache sufferers can expect to feel symptoms for as long as a week.
In an April 2009 CNN article, Michael Kuhar, chief of the division of neuroscience at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, said the following about the negative effects of caffeine: "Withdrawal symptoms can start from 12 to 20 hours after your last cup of coffee and peak about two days later and can last about as long as a week."
Cutting Back on Caffeine
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal usually go away after several days. Gradually lowering the levels of caffeine in your body may help to lessen the symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms are often experienced after too abrupt a decrease in caffeine consumption.
Suggestions for Gradually Reducing Caffeine Consumption
Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins said in a press release, "We teach a systematic method of gradually reducing caffeine consumption over time by substituting decaffeinated or non-caffeinated products."
With this information in mind, try asking the barista at your favorite coffee stop to add one less shot of espresso to your coffee drink. If you drink brewed coffee, consider ordering the next size down: instead of a 20 oz. cup, go with a 16 or 12 oz. drink.
Drink caffeine-free. If you get your caffeine from soda, gradually drink smaller amounts each day. You can also decrease your caffeine consumption by replacing some of your caffeinated soft drinks with decaffeinated ones.
Drink weaker tea. The longer you brew caffeine-containing tea, the more caffeine you consume. Consider dunking your tea bag fewer times. If you like the flavor of strong tea, try drinking caffeine-free herbal varieties.
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