Caffeine & Coffee – Natural Supplements Series

Average Reading Time: 7 minutes

Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages on our planet. It’s how many people start their days and get things rolling. the warmth of the cup, mixed with the smell of freshly brewed coffee puts a smile to more people than just me. But it’s not the coffee that is working as this kickstarter in our lives, but caffeine that we consume with it.

Caffeine has a very stimulating effect on our central nervous system. This makes caffeine the most widely consumed psychoactive drug on the market. Luckily to all of the “junkies”, it’s a legal, but mostly unregulated, drug. This article wants to highlight how caffeine works in us and what the general benefits are, how it might potentially be harmful and how to make caffeine work best for your needs and goals.

caffeine brain

In this natural supplements series article, we will deep dive into this highly valued compound and establish how beneficial it might be for your health.

Spoiler Alert: Coffee and caffeine are very healthy and describe many other potential benefits while being very minimal on the potential negative impacts.

Caffeine: Mechanics

Caffeine structure

There are many different things that happen in your body when you add caffeine to the system. The most important thing that does happen is that caffeine docks on adenosine receptors. Usually, the body doesn’t just let anyone thing dock or unlock a receptor unless you have the right key.

Caffeine can do this because it is very similar in structure to adenosine. Normally, when adenosine attaches to its receptors your neural activity would slow down and you’d feel sleepy.

Activating or rather blocking those receptors with caffeine will increase the activity of your sympathetic nervous system (you might know as fight-or-flight). That’s why drinking coffee may give you more energy, lets you feel more awake and overall just ready to go.

Health Effects of Caffeine

As we just saw above, caffeine can be a great stimulant to our central nervous system. To make this even better, caffeine consumption has been linked to many positive health effects too, while the negative health effects are existent but not too impactful.

Positive Health Effects of Caffeine

The list of positive (health) effects is very long, I’ll focus on the most important ones.

We scratched this in the initial part of the article already, that caffeine can improve alertness and your attention. This seems to be especially true for people who usually don’t administer caffeine to their system, but is also true – to a lesser extent – for people who have built up a tolerance already.

Lack of sleep usually makes people less productive in their tasks, especially if they need to focus a lot. With higher dosages of caffeine, this can be temporarily remedied.

Caffeine for strength, endurance and performance

Caffeine can increase your strength, overall power output and your endurance. That is great to hear for all the athletes out there. The increase in performance doesn’t stem from actually making your stronger, but rather because with caffeine in your system you can perform at a higher level (higher speed, more weight, longer training session).

Research showed that caffeine consumption can lower your pain perception in tests of muscular endurance. To get to those effects you have to consume 5 mg/kg prior to your workout (around 60-90 minutes). That’s 375 mg for a 75 kg human being.

strength

Staying in the realms of fitness. Post workout consumption of caffeine has been shown to increase your carbohydrate uptake. This means you would be able to refuel your muscle glycogen better and faster if you consume caffeine with your post-workout carbs.

This is especially important if you train more than once a day or want to get as ready as possible for the upcoming training session the following day. If you don’t train the next day, consuming caffeine post workout is not necessary at all. Your body will recover in time on it’s on (if your lifestyle is good enough).

Please also consider that caffeine doesn’t only raises awareness for a couple of hours, which might inhibit your sleep – especially if you train late afternoons or in the evening – it also raises your cortisol levels. After your training, your cortisol levels are already high, because any form of stress (training is stress), raises those levels already.

Caffeine for weight control

There are many people in the gym’s in the world who train with the purpose to lose weight. As we just saw, caffeine can work as a pre- and post-workout supplement, but it can also help to prevent weight gain or help at weight loss.

Different studies found that having coffee or caffeine helps to break down stored body fat in the different test subjects.

weight control

The required dose can be achieved with 3 to 4 cups of coffee a day. So you might add this to your routine, with a coffee mid-morning (not first thing in the morning!), after lunch, pre-workout and maybe post-workout.

Caffeine for a better memory

Another positive effect caffeine seems to have is that it can enhance memory. Regular coffee users showed an increase memory recall than the low users.

A similar study showed those increased memory recall abilities too, with the limitation that the coffee managed to positively influence the memory only short term.

Yet another study confirmed this but limited the increase in memory recall to relatively simple tasks especially when performing under sub-optimal alertness.

Caffeine for a healthier brain

This makes you think: as caffeine is a potential cognitive enhancer, is it possible also healthy for your brain?

healthier brain

And again 3-5 cups of coffee seem to have positive effects or rather protect against dementia. The good news goes further. It seems as though caffeine can even suppress amyloid levels in our body.

Amyloids cause inflammation in the brain and lead to Alzheimer’s disease. While this has only been shown in mice, let’s be hopeful that it extends to humans too.

Caffeine to combat cancer

There are many big studies out there that looked into the effects of coffee and caffeine on different types of cancer. These studies showed that 4-6 cups of coffee can have plenty of beneficial health impacts. Caffeine:

Caffeine for a healthier metabolism

I saved the most important health impact of coffee and caffeine for the end of this list.

There are a few studies that looked at the effects of coffee and caffeine consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2DM). T2DM is such a common metabolic problem – part of the metabolic syndrome – in Western societies and is causing many health problems for millions of people.

BMR

The same time it is putting our countries finances in jeopardy, as the costs of treating these health issues (high blood sugar, increased blood pressure, abnormal lipid levels and abdominal obesity) is skyrocketing. In other words, in a not so distant future, we won’t be able to finance the treatments for such health problems.

That’s why it is great news for all of us to hear that coffee and caffeine have the potential to decrease the risk for T2DM in younger and middle-aged women.

In a meta-analysis it has been concluded that coffee and caffeine intake “might significantly reduce the incidence of T2DM”.

As a side note: it seems that a well-rounded nutrition combined with some regular movement is the best way to combat the metabolic syndrome.

Side Effects of Caffeine

As stated right at the beginning of this article, caffeine is a drug. Like many drugs, caffeine comes with a few side effects. Regular consumption of regular coffee will lead to an increased level of tolerance.

In daily life, this might mean that instead of feeling like one cup of coffee to get things started, you might two. If you ever miss your usual dose for some reason, you might feel off. That’s caffeine withdrawal and highlights your caffeine dependence.

Caffeine withdrawal symptoms

As caffeine is an addictive compound, one of the side effects of it is withdrawal. Some of the potential symptoms of withdrawal are:

  • headaches,
  • fatigue,
  • decreased energy/activeness,
  • decreased alertness,
  • drowsiness,
  • decreased contentedness,
  • depressed mood,
  • difficulty concentrating, irritability, and
  • foggy/not clearheaded. 

These symptoms usually start to show after on day already. The peak of symptoms arises within the first 3 days, and they disappear again after anything between 2 to 9 days from going off of caffeine.

Headaches seem to be by far the most common withdrawal symptom.

Other side effects

There are other potential side effects, mainly

While this sounds very dramatic, most studies showed that these potential side effects are uncommon if caffeine is taken as coffee (versus pills).

Overdosage and Toxicity Level

Overdosing on caffeine, especially if you drink it with coffee, is rare and a real challenge.

The toxicity level for caffeine depends on your body. As we have seen for most people up 600 mg seem to be fine. The mayo clinic sees 400 mg as the sweet spot.

In order to die of caffeine, you have to resort to much higher levels than that. There have been incidents of death by caffeine after ingesting 10 g or 12 g.

This doesn’t happen by accident any more and shouldn’t frighten you. The person who killed themself with 10 g used 200 mg tablets to do so. That’s 50 tablets in total, or 50 to 100 cups of regular coffee.

Overdosing on caffeine is much easier though. Most people will feel anxious, but they might also feel confused, have seizures, fever or stomac pain.

The amount depends on gender, age, weight and is very personal. Having a few cups of coffee probably won’t do any harm. That being said, be cautious and keep in mind that other sources dietary sources with caffeine exist too:

  • especially energy drinks and soft drinks are high in caffeine
  • but also tea (black, green) or chocolate contain it.

Caffeine Cycling

As you can see, caffeine has much more potential for your health than it might have negative consequences. One of the things I suggest doing, besides consuming coffee with care, is to cycle it.

This means that after a few weeks or months, you go off of caffeine for a while. This could be anything ranging from 5 – 10 days in my opinion. This gives your body some time to get everything out and you will see how used you have become to coffee.

Once you’re done with it, just slowly start with you coffee again. You’ll see that you need less to get a boost and it will taste great.

My personal cycling plan is linked to my fitness routine. After every routine (which might last anything between 9 – 16 weeks), I cycle off for 7 – 10 days. I use this time to fully rest and recover from my workouts, try to get in more sleep. I usually have decaf during these days, simply because I enjoy the taste of coffee.


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