Caffeine: Uses and Side Effects

Caffeine: Uses and Side Effects

Caffeine is a chemical substance naturally occurring in more than 60 plants, including coffee, guarana, tea leaves, cola, mate, kola nuts, and other products. We also have man-made caffeine; they’re mostly added to some foods, drinks, and medicines. It’s often present in cold medicines, over-the-counter medicines for alertness, and some pain relievers. It is primarily used to improve mental alertness, but it can also be used for other purposes. Caffeine is tasteless, so you may not know if it is in your food and offers no nutritional value on its own.

Furthermore, it is so widely available that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed that about 80% of U.S. adults take some form of caffeine every day. It usually acts as a central nervous system stimulant whose most noticeable effect is alertness. When you take caffeine, you’ll feel less tired and more awake. This is the major reason for its usage in medications to manage or treat migraines, drowsiness, and headaches. Moderate intake has various health benefits, including improving brain conditions, lowering risks of certain cancers and liver problems. However, excessive consumption carries several risks which can lead to adverse effects on the body.

Uses and Effectiveness

1. Migraine

Caffeine can be very effective for treating migraines when you take it by mouth together with some pain relievers such as acetaminophen and aspirin. It’s an FDA-approved product for use together with pain killers for treating migraine headaches though this should be taken with a prescription from the doctor, as excessive consumption could lead to adverse effects.

2. Mental alertness

Recent research has suggested that taking caffeinated beverages throughout the day improves certain reaction times and also keeps the mind alert. The combination of glucose(as an energy drink) with caffeine seems to improve mental performance better than taking either glucose or caffeine alone.

3. Headache after surgery

Since caffeine is an FDA-approved product, it’s widely used by experts and people who regularly consume products that contain caffeine, and it’s effective for preventing headaches following surgery. It can either be used through the mouth or intravenously.

4. Breathing problems in newborns/ infant apnea

Neonatal apnea describes a condition in which infants have episodes of cessation of breathing that last for at least 20 seconds or more, and this causes a serious drop in heart rate and oxygen levels. This condition is common in very premature infants. Caffeine is approved as a prescription drug( given by mouth or intravenously) to treat neonatal apnea and improve breathing in premature infants with this condition. Although caffeine helps improve the symptoms of this condition, it does not prevent it. 

5. Athletic performance

For athletes, drinking caffeine increases physical strength, improves endurance, and delays fatigue during exercises. It doesn’t seem to improve performance during short-term, high-intensity exercises such as sprinting and certain lifting types. However, it might reduce tiredness and greatly improve the performance of some exercises such as running, soccer, golfing, and cycling. In addition, you should note that it works better during morning exercise than evening exercise, and excessive consumption might lead to tolerance.

6. Diabetes

Taking teas or beverages that contain caffeine may help lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The more caffeine consumed, the lower the risk of the disease. However, the research on the effects of caffeine in people with type 1 diabetes is inconsistent as some research shows benefits while some do not. Caffeine might prevent type 2 diabetes, but it cannot be effective in treating it. 

7. Obesity

Moderate consumption of caffeine combined with ephedrine may help reduce weight ( short-term). Taking around 195 mg of caffeine with 90mg of ephedra daily for six months can lead to a modest weight loss of about 5.5kg or 12 pounds in overweight people. Aside from this, the combination of the two-plus limiting fat intake(i.e., dieting) also seems to reduce body fat, decrease “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and increase “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Also, caffeine & ephedra combinations can cause changes in blood pressure and heart rate.

8. Memory

Taking an adequate amount of caffeine through the mouth, with nothing more than 200 mg daily, can help to improve the memory of people, including college students or people with outgoing personalities. However, it’s best not to take it in excess.

9. Depression

Research suggests that caffeine intake is linked with an increased occurrence of depression symptoms in children. However, other research proved that caffeinated coffee intake may help decrease depression in adults.

Common side effects of caffeine

  • insomnia
  • nervousness or anxiety
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • headache
  • some serious allergic reactions such as difficulty breathing, chest tightness, swelling of the mouth, and itching.
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • palpitations or rapid heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • chest pain

It’s advisable to seek medical attention right away if any of these severe side effects occur.

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