If you rely on caffeine to provide a “pick me up,” you’re definitely not alone. Many people rely on caffeine for a quick energy boost. I did the same thing during my early days as a medical resident and intern. We used to be on call every other night, often surviving on one or two hours of sleep during a 36-hour shift.
Despite our sleep deprivation, we had to perform. It was imperative that we kept our minds sharp to deal with emergencies, an overwhelming multitude of complex patients, and our studies, so how did we do it? You guessed it. We drank a steady stream of caffeinated coffee in the hospital, the library, and our dorms. We drank it at all hours of the day and night to keep us razor sharp—pushing way beyond our usual physical limits.
At the time, caffeine seemed like the only solution to the long hours demanded of doctors-in-training. There are benefits to caffeine consumption, certainly, but there are also unwanted side effects of caffeine as well-including jitteriness and the infamous “caffeine crash” once it clears its way out of your system.
But A New Study Has Found that Caffeine May Not Be the Culprit
Years ago, it was thought that caffeine was a major cause of heart palpitations. But, a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that caffeine may not be the culprit. Researchers at the University of California performed an observational study of 1,388 healthy people, looking at their caffeine consumption (including coffee, tea, and chocolate) over the course of a year. Sixty-one percent of participants drank more than one caffeinated beverage a day.
When they monitored the participants heart rhythms for 24 hours, they found no relationship between caffeine consumption and the number of arrhythmias per hour, including PACs and PVCs. And more frequent consumption of caffeinated beverages didn’t cause extra heartbeats.
Does that mean you can drink an unlimited number of caffeinated beverages? I would still encourage you to use caution. In my clinical practice, I found a pretty strong association between caffeine and heart palpitations for some people.
Drinking excessive levels of caffeine can cause caffeinism which is characterized by specific caffeine side effects: central nervous system (CNS) effects like agitation, irritability, and inability to sleep, as well as peripheral signs that include high heart rate, high blood pressure, and cardiac arrhythmias.
Yet, In Moderation Caffeine Has Some Powerful Benefits
Most people describe enhanced alertness, mental acuity, and competency after caffeine ingestion. The brain is usually the first organ to reap benefits, experiencing a greater sense of wakefulness and less fatigue. Caffeine is quick, and most of us notice its “kick” within only 20 minutes. Then, it reaches significant blood levels in only 30 to 45 minutes and peaks in about two hours.
Caffeine can relieve migraine headaches, by constricting cerebral blood vessels. Plus, caffeine can decrease appetite and increase urine flow, as well as induce contractions of the gall bladder, preventing it from becoming sluggish.
Many caffeinated beverages, including green tea, black tea, and coffee, also contain potent antioxidants that are supportive to health. Plus, Dark chocolate has been shown to not only reduce blood pressure but helps to regulate lipids as well.
What’s the Bottom Line for You?
When it comes to caffeine, less is more. I recommend that you limit your ingestion of caffeine to the equivalent of one or two cups of coffee per day to keep caffeine side effects at bay.
At doses of less than 200 mg daily, you’ll be less likely to develop a dependence on caffeine while still benefiting from some of its favorable psychoactive and psychological effects. And if you’re someone with cardiac arrhythmia, hypertension, or anxiety and panic disorders, or if you’re trying to conceive, you’re better off with herbal tea.