Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people say, “Caffeine doesn’t affect me,” which confused me. It has always been my understanding that caffeine is a stimulant and should be likely to affect one person the same as any other. Right? I mean, a stimulant is a stimulant. It triggers the brain and central nervous system, making a person more alert and elevating their mood. On paper, caffeine should produce the same outcome for everyone.
And yet, that isn’t the case. Or, at least, not the perceived case. Instantly, I can think of two extreme examples.
I used to work with a man who drank coffee all day. I’m not talking about sipping on a cup or two throughout the day. He made several pots of coffee every day and never went anywhere without his travel mug in hand. When asked, he would say caffeine “didn’t bother him,” and yet, I can still see him in every meeting with his leg bobbing up and down, shifting in his seat every couple of minutes. It was impossible for him to sit still. (I won’t even get into his reactionary temperament.)
On the other hand, my niece used to say she couldn’t drink coffee, because it made her “feel weird.” When prodded to elaborate, she said she wanted to crawl out of her skin and had crazy thoughts and dreams—if she was even able to fall asleep. Were her brain and central nervous system simply more sensitive?
According to Healthline’s website, there is some truth to the idea that caffeine affects people differently. Depending on your level of sensitivity, you may be able to down a cup of joe just before bedtime and still fall asleep with ease, or you might curse every drop of caffeine when you try to settle down for the night. Healthline references a 2011 study which showed 10 percent of the population feels no effects, due to a gene that allows for higher caffeine intake without side effects.
While I’m not saying this study was wrong, are you part of that 10 percent? Or are you one of the many people who have an addiction to caffeine, and you don’t even notice anymore how it affects you? It’s an important distinction to make.
After all, the nutrition greats have been warning us about the detriments of caffeine for years:
- Royal Lee urged people to consider the addictive nature and health impact of caffeine, specifically in soft drinks, in a 1957 issue of the magazine Herald of Health. In the article, Lee cautions that “cola nuts contain about twice (and up to three times) as much caffeine as coffee, so the cola extract is a very fine addition for a soft drink designed to be habit-forming. To clinch the matter, however, still more caffeine is put in, in crystal form.” Added to this, the refined sugar in a soft drink is bad for the liver.
- In Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, Sally Fallon discusses caffeine and a similar substance, theobromine (from tea and cocoa). Both give your adrenal glands a jolt, releasing “an adrenaline-like substance,” causing the liver to send sugar into your bloodstream. This gives you the boost you’re looking for, but also interferes with blood sugar regulation processes. This will inevitably cause health problems if it becomes a regular occurrence. This, of course, is an even bigger concern for people who already have blood sugar irregularities. If you fall into this category, talk with your healthcare provider about your caffeine consumption. Additionally, the stomach is irritated by caffeine, which increases acid production, and can leave you with a sour stomach.
- More recently, Maria Atwood, CNHP, wrote about this in her post: “COFFEE, PLEASE: The Destructive Nature of Caffeine.” While coffee is among the most socially accepted addictions, there is hope if you want to give it up; Atwood offers help. She suggests making a conscious decision to eliminate coffee from your diet and replace it with “the many foods that have been shown to keep your brain neurotransmitters alert and healthy.” She assures us that the withdrawal you may experience will subside by the third day—so be strong. Maria even gives you permission to lay down and rest for 30-40 minutes each day. Who isn’t looking for an excuse to do that?
Since we can’t all be part of the 10 percent with the caffeine-friendly gene, many of us would benefit from evaluating the effect it has in our lives. If you decide you want to cut back, or cut out caffeine entirely, try experimenting with caffeine-free herbal teas to see if one can scratch that coffee itch. If you’re a soda drinker, try using those herbal teas to make a batch of unsweetened iced tea. You may be surprised by the impact this small shift has on your everyday health.
Image from iStock/CREATISTA.