It’s no surprise that many of us love caffeinated beverages – many of us thrive (or survive, depending on the day) on the wakefulness and can-do attitude provided by our morning cup o’ joe. I’m personally obsessed with tea, and in the mornings, I often like it more than the people who try to talk to me before it’s kicked in. My fingers are currently flying over the keys thanks to a handful of chocolate-covered espresso beans.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone: more than 90% of American adults use caffeine regularly. But how much do you actually know about this substance that you ply yourself with every morning (and afternoon… and some evenings…)? We’ve taken it upon ourselves to decode caffeine – what it actually is, its effects on the body and our health, and the many ways to consume it.
So, what exactly is caffeine?
Caffeine is a bitter, white crystalline xanthine alkaloid – a term used for substances produced as end products of nitrogen metabolism in some plants. Caffeine naturally occurs in the leaves, seeds, or fruit of more than 60 plant species, including: coffee beans, tea leaves, kola nuts, cacao beans, and guarana (a seed). The caffeine in these plants acts as a natural pesticide for the plants, and paralyzes and kills insects that attempt to feed on the plants. In humans, however, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, increases heart rate and respiration, has psychotropic (mood-altering) properties, and acts as a mild diuretic.
How caffeine affects the body
The effects of caffeine on the body may begin as early as 15 minutes after ingesting and last up to six hours. When consumed in moderate doses (200-400 mg), caffeine can help people feel more alert and less sleepy. Plus, consuming caffeine may be linked to some pretty awesome health benefits. Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that consuming three cups of coffee a day may reduce the risk of liver cancer by 50%, while another study suggests that drinking four cups a day could halve the risk of mouth and throat cancer. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health suggested that drinking between two and four cups of coffee a day may reduce suicide risk in adults, while more recent research found that ingesting 200 mg of caffeine each day may boost long-term memory.
However, when people consume more caffeine than is recommended, they may experience negative side effects such as dizziness, troubled breathing, muscle tremors, nausea, diarrhea, thirst, anxiety, confusion, irritability, insomnia, changes in appetite, dry mouth, blurred vision, and cold sweats. Consuming drastically more caffeine than recommended (1000 mg or more) on a regular basis may be linked to conception problems and increased episodes of heartburn.
How to consume it: Shall I count the ways?
There is no shortage in the ways for people to consume caffeine. At the moment of reading this, you’re probably a stone’s throw away from at least three different caffeinated substances. Here’s a list of the caffeine content in some popular drinks and snacks (for a more extensive list, click here).
5-Hour Energy (1.9 oz.): 208 mg
Coffee (8 oz.): 100-200 mg
Monster Energy (16 oz.): 160 mg
Espresso (2 oz.): 100-150 mg
Red Bull (8.4 oz.): 80 mg
Black tea (8 oz.): 50-70 mg
Mountain Dew (12 oz.): 54 mg
Green tea (8 oz.): 25-45 mg
Coffee-flavored ice cream (4 oz.): 20-45 mg
Coca-Cola (12 oz.): 35 mg
Chocolate (2 oz.): 15-25 mg
Decaffeinated coffee (8 oz.): 2-12 mg