Ever since I started this semester, I’ve been monitoring my caffeine intake more. I usually start the day with a coffee, as well as the occasional caffeine pill. I’ll drink a 5 hour energy if I really need to get through work or classes. While these help me feel great, I am beginning to feel a little concerned about how much I am taking in. After all, I’ve heard all kinds of talk about how caffeine is one of the most abused drugs in the world. For this reason, I decided to research caffeine and see whether or not it has adverse health effects.
I first decided to examine just exactly what caffeine is and how it works. According to this source, caffeine is a stimulant commonly used to increase focus and to fight off sleepiness. It is, of course, legal; however it shares many of the same properties with illegal drugs like MDMA and cocaine. Stimulants work by increasing the release of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is associated with wakefulness, alertness, and happiness. This is why caffeine can produce feelings of pleasure when Ingested.
So is caffeine bad for you, and how much is too much? According to research conducted by Johns Hopkins University, caffeine is associated with a few negative side effects. Mild headaches and anxiety are seen in some individuals with caffeine ingestion. It seems that, for the general public, however, caffeine is harmless to a reasonable extent. When taken in excess, however, caffeine begins to look more like a dangerous street drug. Much like alcohol or cocaine, individuals can build up a tolerance to caffeine. This means that caffeine will have a smaller perceived effect unless taken in larger amounts. Larger amounts can begin to affect sleep and health. Furthermore, it is possible to experience withdrawal symptoms after stopping regularly scheduled caffeine intake. These symptoms include drowsiness, headaches, and fatigue. I find the similarities of caffeine with harder, illegal drugs to be somewhat alarming. The fact that withdrawal is associated with stopping caffeine intake alludes to the concept of caffeine addiction being very real and serious.
So is there anything good about caffeine? According to a study published in Nature, caffeine can increase memory. The study conducted was extremely thorough, as it was randomized, double-blind, and placebo controlled. This is the type of study necessary to show a causal relationship. The study showed that caffeine intake improved the consolidation of memories. This means that people who take caffeine are more likely to process new memories better than those who did not. While there was no data to suggest caffeine improved the retrieval of past memories, the fact that caffeine improves memory processing could stand to benefit students like myself greatly. Many classes test simple memory recollection- the same cognitive function that caffeine improves.
In conclusion, caffeine seems to be a valuable tool that should be used sparingly. The benefits of caffeine are clear. Besides being able to assist in a long night of studying, caffeine is shown to actually improve the processing of new memories. This claim is supported by a rigorous, well-conducted study. Unfortunately, caffeine can be very detrimental if taken in excess. A tolerance to the drug will occur if taken in very large quantities on a regular basis. This will reduce the effects of the drug. Withdrawal is also likely if caffeine is taken regularly and in large amounts. This has very unpleasant symptoms, but is unlikely to damage you in the long term. I will continue to take caffeine containing food and drink, but I’ll definitely limit myself. I think that a reasonable person would also take caffeine in moderation to benefit from the concentration and memory gains, but avoid building a tolerance and eventually experiencing withdrawal.