Caffeine is one of the world’s most popular drugs. Once inside your body, it blocks brain receptors for adenosine, a molecule associated with tiredness. Over time, however, the brain chemistry of coffee drinkers changes, triggering production of more adenosine receptors. The result is a need for increasing amounts of caffeine to stay alert. Quit caffeine and you may experience headaches, fatigue and cloudy thinking.
Despite these concerns, evidence suggests that coffee intake may reduce the incidence of diabetes, lower risk of stroke, and improve HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. Some people may even be less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as a result of regularly drinking coffee. And, contrary to popular belief, moderate coffee consumption does not significantly increase blood pressure. Still, coffee shouldn’t be considered a health beverage. In addition to its addictive nature, too much caffeine can cause anxiety, tremors, insomnia and palpitations.
Caffeinated beverages are diuretics, meaning they cause you to urinate more. Caffeine can also irritate the bladder as well as the digestive tract. If you experience any of these symptoms, you are probably better off avoiding all caffeinated beverages and even decaf coffee, which still contains small amounts of caffeine.
Keep in mind that the research studies on coffee’s potential health benefits usually involve black coffee, not a milky latte from your local barista.
If you enjoy coffee, try limiting yourself to one or two cups a day (for a total of about 300mg of caffeine).
Avoid caffeinated energy drinks and soft drinks, but go ahead and treat yourself each day to a small piece of dark chocolate with a cacao content of at least 70 per cent; it has health benefits despite containing caffeine.
If you do decide you want to break the caffeine habit, wean yourself off slowly. Give yourself three days to do it. You may feel irritated and less energetic than usual and may even develop a bothersome headache, but you should feel better within a few days.