We all know that caffeine is a stimulant; we reach for the tea or coffee first thing in the morning, but many of us keep reaching for it throughout the day. However, too much caffeine can play havoc on your body, keeping the adrenal system on alert over long periods, depleting vital nutrients and interrupting the flow of the hormone melatonin.
Caffeine is the world’s most popular drug – in the UK we drink a staggering 70 million cups of coffee each day. Most heavy coffee drinkers know they should cut down but there is also research showing positive health benefits of caffeine, so the information can be confusing.
It’s true that caffeine is a stimulant which acts on the adrenal glands, gives a rush of energy and sharpens our senses. However, over-consumption eventually leads to exhaustion as we are pushing the body to work when really it needs to rest.
Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, and helps control body rhythms by telling our bodies when to sleep and when to wake. Research has shown that caffeinated coffee halves the body's levels of this sleep hormone. Heavy consumption - more than four cups a day - has been linked to ill health. Caffeine is present in varying levels in coffee, tea (including green tea), colas, energy drinks and some painkillers and it is worth noting that some take away coffees contain more than 6 times as much caffeine as a single spoon of instant coffee made at home – could this be why you feel the urge to go back to that particular coffee shop?
It’s difficult to say what the ideal amount is because people react to caffeine differently. The biological half-life of caffeine (the time it takes the body to eliminate half of what is consumed) is 6 hours, however this can be as little as 3 hours in some individuals. This may explain why some people are able to drink coffee in the evening and still get a good night’s sleep. But if you are going to drink caffeine, the best advice is to drink it in the morning then switch to caffeine-free drinks like herbal and rooibos teas for the rest of the day. Rooibos, according to WebMD, has fifty times more antioxidants than green tea, which reduce free radicals in the body. It’s also rich in Vitamin C, low in tannins and may ease digestive problems.
A word of caution if you currently consume a high level of caffeine – you must cut down gradually. As is the case with many drugs, caffeine is addictive and has significant withdrawal symptoms, so just reduce your intake by a small amount each day and allow your body time to adjust. Your energy will naturally re-balance itself, you just need to give it a chance.