The highs and lows of every student’s favourite study aid
By Sonia Panesar, Contributor
Caffeine is an addiction we’re accustomed to, but have you ever considered what it does to your body?
The recommended daily consumption of caffeine by Health Canada is 45 mg for children aged four to six; 62.5 mg for children aged seven to nine; and 85 mg for children aged 10 to 12. The recommended maximums for children are equivalent to about one to two 12-oz (355 ml) cans of cola a day. Health Canada doesn’t specify limits for adult caffeine consumption, although they say that an average intake of 400 mg per day shouldn’t have any negative effects. Women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should lower their intake to 300 mg/day.
What is caffeine? Caffeine is a substance that is produced by the leaves and seeds of several plants. It is considered a drug because it stimulates your central nervous system and increases your alertness by injecting adrenaline into your system. It’s not a permanent form of energy, but it can lighten your mood. It can be found in several substances such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, and some over-the-counter medications and pain relievers. Most of the caffeine we consume is not stored in our bodies, though we can feel its effects for up to six hours.
Consumption of caffeine has its benefits, with the main one being an increase in your mental faculty, which is probably the reason for its popularity. Caffeine also increases your muscle strength, and it increases your metabolism rate by freeing fatty acids and helping them be burned down by your body. Caffeine benefits those who are at a high risk for liver disease, and reduces asthma symptoms. Caffeine can also stimulate hair growth in men and women who are losing their hair. One major positive effect is that caffeine can prevent cataracts. Cataracts are responsible for half the cases of blindness across the world, and studies have shown that eye drops containing caffeine can make eye surgery unnecessary.
However, the consumption of caffeine does have negative effects. There are some moderate effects and some more severe. The moderate effects include headaches, irritability, an upset stomach, increased heart rate and blood sugar, difficulty concentrating, and restlessness. People who drink up to more than three cups of coffee a day are addicted to caffeine, and they could experience mild withdrawal symptoms within 12 hours of their last cup. Severe negative effects of caffeine overconsumption include: panic attacks, sleep deprivation, prolonged depression, sleep disorders, irregular heartbeat, and continuous stomach problems.
Even though caffeinated beverages have negative effects they are useful to us in several ways, mostly when consumed in moderation. Pulling all-nighters with coffee isn’t a great idea because you destroy your body’s sleep cycle and abuse the receptors in your brain, the same way a drug like heroin would. If you are consuming too much caffeine on a daily basis, several things can be done to minimize withdrawal symptoms and cut back on your intake, such as swapping out one of your caffeinated beverages for something like herbal tea. Don’t skip breakfast, try to keep fit, and exercise more: even small bursts of activity, like choosing the stairs instead of the elevator, will minimize withdrawal symptoms.
For those of you who have thought about completely forgoing caffeine, quitting cold-turkey is the worst thing you could possibly do. Suddenly cutting out coffee actually makes you crave caffeine more, so to be on the safe side, reduce your intake by one cup at a time, or switch to beverages that contain less caffeine, like black or green tea.