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Natural Medicine : Caffeine

Although caffeine consumption is a common habit, it may also be at the root of many common health problems. Caffeine is present in coffee, teas, soft drinks, and chocolate. Caffeine consumption affects every organ system, from the nervous system to the skin. Caffeine raises stress hormone levels in the blood, inhibits important enzyme systems having to do with house cleaning in the body, sensitizes nerve reception sites, and is associated with a sense of poor health, anxiety, and depression.1, 2

The following are health problems associated with caffeine consumption:

1. Caffeine may contribute to many digestive problems. It irritates the stomach and bladder. Peptic ulcer patients should avoid beverages containing caffeine. Many people also find that caffeine drinks cause them to suffer diarrhea followed by constipation.

2. Headaches are common among caffeine users and often clear up after short periods of caffeine abstinence (one to two weeks). Headaches may also occur as a symptom of caffeine withdrawal. Some individuals are so sensitive that headaches develop soon after drinking their last cup of coffee.

3. Drinking coffee has been shown to have deleterious effects on the developing fetus. Studies have suggested that seven cups of coffee per day may produce unwanted outcomes of pregnancy. Caffeine can damage the chromosomes of sex cells and the chromosomes of the developing embryo during pregnancy.

4. Substances that can damage chromosomes can also cause an increase in the rate of cancer. Bladder cancer in women is 2 1/2 times more likely to occur if a woman drinks only one cup of coffee per day.3

5. Physical and mental fatigue is common after drinking caffeinated beverages. Caffeine first stimulates the nerves than causes depression. A common complaint in physicians' offices today is fatigue. Yet, many people mistakenly believe that coffee helps them get through a difficult day.

In addition to fatigue, mental confusion and depression also result from the use of caffeinated drinks. While caffeinated drinks cause an immediate increase in the learning ability, the overall result is a decrease in learning. The physical fatigue resulting from pharmacologic depression of the nervous system produces emotional depression, leading to a reduction of interest in and retention of new material.

Students are recommended to avoid caffeinated drinks in order to increase learning ability. If caffeine is taken at night, it interferes with the mechanism the brain has of transferring freshly learned material from short-term memory to long-term memory.

6. Heart disease may have a stronger association with coffee drinking than with obesity, according to a study by Dr. Ogelsby Paul of Western Electric Corporation.4

7. Some studies have suggested a link between caffeine consumption and mental disorders. Cases of depression and anxiety in mental institutions that are treated by eliminating caffeine from the diet have been reported.5, 6

1. Greden, John F. M.D. et al. Anxiety and Depression Associated with Caffeinism Among Psychiatric Inpatients. American Journal of Psychiatry 133:8, Aug 1978.
2. Bellet, Samuel. Effects of Coffee Ingestion on Catecholamine Release.
3. The Medical Effects of Coffee. Medical World News, January 26, 1976.
4. Science Digest, October, 1963.
5. Winstead, Daniel K. M.D. Coffee Consumption Among Psychiatric Inpatients. American Journal of Psychiatry 133:12, December, 1976.
6. Greden, John F. M.D. Anxiety of Caffeinism: A diagnostic dilemma. American Journal of Psychiatry 131:10, October, 1974.

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