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The Side Effects of Caffeine

Jan 21, 2010

Caffeine is perhaps the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world. Caffeine occurs naturally in a wide range of food sources, ranging from coffee and tea to chocolate and cola. It occurs naturally in the leaves, seeds and fruits of more than 60 plants. Here are some of the side effects of caffeine.

Dietary Sources of Caffeine

Caffeine is found in a wide range of food products and over the counter drugs. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola, chocolate and in some fruits and seeds. It's also a frequently used additive in over the counter pain relievers, appetite suppressants and cold remedies. Caffeine is flavorless.

How Your Body Processes Caffeine

Your body absorbs and distributes caffeine very quickly, because it's water soluble. That means that caffeine can spread throughout all of your body's cells, and, if you're a regular caffeine user, it's likely that some amount of caffeine can be found in any of your cells at any given time. Caffeine travels directly into your bloodstream from the stomach, and then moves rapidly to the brain, reproductive organs and liver.

Because caffeine is water soluble and passes easily through cell membranes, it's very difficult for your body to purge caffeine from the cells. That means that the caffeine from a single cup of coffee remains in your body for several days.

Caffeine is chemically similar to adenosine, a type of sugar that helps in the regulation of important body processes, including the firing of neurotransmitters. Caffeine takes the place of adenosine in your brain, attaching itself to the same neural receptors affected by adenosine, and causing your neurons to fire more rapidly, hence caffeine's stimulating effects.

Side Effects of Caffeine Ingestion

Caffeine is widely used as a stimulant, but like any other drug it carries risks and side effects. While moderate caffeine consumption of three or fewer eight ounce cups of coffee each day can have stimulating effects and isn't considered harmful, excessive caffeine intake can cause symptoms including:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Excessive urination
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty sleeping

Caffeine is a diuretic, so excessive caffeine consumption can contribute to dehydration, especially when coupled with low fluid intake. Care should be taken when coupling caffeine consumption with high levels of physical activity or when consuming caffeine during hot weather, as it causes your body to lose more fluids than normal.

Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal

Caffeine is an addictive drug, and some people who use caffeine regularly may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using it. Caffeine withdrawal symptoms are generally mild, but can be quite severe in those who have become accustomed to consuming excessive amounts of the drug. Caffeine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Grogginess
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

If you'd like to reduce or eliminate your own caffeine consumption, you should do so gradually to minimize withdrawal symptoms.

Long Term Effects of Caffeine Use

While moderate caffeine use isn't considered harmful in the long term, excessive caffeine use can cause high blood pressure and can be a contributing factor in fibrocystic breast disease. Habitual caffeine consumption can also cause chronic insomnia.

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