What the heck is caffeine?
Caffeine is a psychoactive drug, yep it affects your brain and your mood (you coffee drinkers will be well aware of this). Caffeine is a bitter (try chewing a caffeine tablet – yuck) white crystalline xanthine alkaloid that acts as a psychoactive stimulant drug and a mild diuretic (makes you pee more).
Caffeine was discovered by a German chemist, Friedrich Ferdinand Runge, in 1819 (and I bet he was up all night!) He coined the term “kaffein”, a chemical compound in coffee, which in English became caffeine. Caffeine is also called guaranine when found in guarana, mateine when found in mate, and theanine when found in tea; all of these names are synonyms for the same chemical compound.
Caffeine is found in many plants and is used by most folks to increase alertness and focus, and sometimes, just o get through the rest of the workday. Break out the coffee and Red Bull. So, other than making me feel pretty good, what else can this chemical do?
- It causes vasoconstriction – (constricts your blood vessels) this can help alleviate headaches
- It can widen the airways in your lungs, which can be helpful to asthmatics
- Causes fat cells to be released into the blood stream – allowing the body to use them as energy
- Boosts your metabolism – which assists in weight loss
- Reduces the perceived effort during weight lifting exercises – this can make your workout feel easier
- May reduce the possibility of developing Parkinson’s disease (you don’t want this illness)
- Reduces muscle pain during intense exercise – allows you to go harder or longer.
- Caffeine does make you pee more but in healthy people it does not lead to dehydration
And guess what?
It can also significantly lower the risk of diabetes due to its insulin regulating ability.
Ok, so it has all these positive benefits, there’s got to be some bad stuff. Of course there is. Like anything, too much can be bad, and if you’re sensitive to the stuff, you should cut back or cut it out. Here’s a few of the negative items;
- Caffeine can cause insomnia, nervousness, irritability and related disorders
- Excessive use can lead to over-acidity in your stomach leading to ulcers and other nasties
- While OK for us humans, this chemical is really bad for dogs, parrots and horses. (And really bad for spiders.)
- Caffeine can exacerbate existing conditions of the heart – but no studies have shown that it adversely affects the healthy heart
How should you take caffeine?
For day to day use, whatever beverage is your choice. Getting caffeine through tea or coffee (and chocolate) has the added benefit of a big dose of healthy antioxidants. For exercise purposes try taking a caffeine supplement (tablet or powder) in a dosage between 100 & 400 milligrams around 1 hour before working out. Experiment with the dosage to find what works for you. I tried 400mgs and it was far too much for me (shake,rattle and roll), but 200mgs was just right!
I believe that caffeine is a useful and moderately healthy supplement when used smartly. Remember to always consult your doctor if in doubt. If you have any serious medical conditions do your research before taking any chemicals. As a final note, the most recent studies have shown no links between caffeine intake and miscarriage. I would probably reduce the intake as a general health measure anyway!
If you are interested in supplementing with caffeine, it is available from online supplement vendors.