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Caffeine Talk

Posted By Worker Bee On March 20, 2008 @ 10:52 am In Diet,Health,Stress | 72 Comments

Got your morning (or afternoon) joe in hand? For many readers, this would be a yes. Even if you said no, it might just be because you’ve joined ranks with the tea crowd. And, while cultural practice (a mug on the work desk being as American as apple pie) and taste are undoubtedly big draws, for many of us it all boils down to that rousing, invigorating, motivating little substance: caffeine.

When it comes to caffeine, there’s a lot of dissent among those who in some way align themselves with the paleo approach. Purists shun it. Some partake sheepishly and publicly support tea more than coffee, cocoa or unsweetened caffeinated sports waters. Still others openly embrace caffeine as a reasonable compromise. (You’re harder pressed to find common support for soft and sports drinks.)

It’s true that Grok had no Starbucks or Tazo. But should we “can” caffeine?

We should first get the antioxidant issue on the table. Tea, coffee and cocoa, indeed, sport some lovely little flavonoids, but a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can offer the same. The issue is caffeine, the stimulant, itself.

As a stimulant, caffeine offers the temporary benefits of improved concentration, enhanced memory and an extra bit of energy. However, this “heightened” state has some unappealing physical effects as well. Obviously, there are the proverbial caffeine jitters and, for a few people who are either caffeine sensitive or who regularly overindulgence, even heart flutterings. But there’s more. Recent caffeine consumption can reduce blood flow [7] to the heart during exercise.

And, apparently, some of us are “slow caffeine metabolizers” (who knew?). Being part of this crowd and partaking of caffeine, some research [8] shows, puts us at increased risk for non-fatal heart attacks. Caffeine has been shown to also raise blood sugar levels [9] in those with type 2 diabetes.

Additionally, caffeine induces heartburn in many people. Given that prescriptions targeting acid reflux are so common these days, we often wonder how much caffeine plays into many people’s symptoms. At a certain point for certain people, caffeine probably isn’t worth it just from that standpoint alone.

And then there’s the question of why we reach for the mug in the morning (and perhaps the afternoon). Is it really just a pick-me-up, or is it a band-aid for a larger problem like sleep deprivation, hormonal imbalance, lack of physical activity, lack of adequate sunlight, you name it. Are we really taking care of ourselves?

And is caffeine the only answer? Would heading out for a morning walk offer the same benefit? If you’re falling asleep at your desk come 2:30 p.m., would working out over the lunch hour make a difference? We’d argue that scrutinizing caffeine consumption is about the why, how much, and what else, more than a resounding yes or absolute no.

For some of us, in the end, a small amount of caffeine can be a true (and, arguably, truly needed) leg up. It’s a compromise we make in the context of our real, harried modern lives: global business trips with inevitable jet lag, heavy workloads with last minute deadlines, teething toddlers we’re up with half the night, etc. We make a commitment to truly take care of ourselves day to day, but the caffeine option is there to help get us over the hump. It’s a moderate dose of concession in the midst of a busy and otherwise healthy lifestyle.

And maybe that can bring us back to the convenient antioxidant justification. If it should count as an indulgence, why not make it one with a few health benefits on the side?

Send us your perspectives, reasons for abstaining, rationales for imbibing.

Refracted Moments [10], dawn_perry [11], clara & james [12] Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Sensible Vices [13]

Tea Time [14]

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[9] raise blood sugar levels: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080128084449.htm

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[11] dawn_perry: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dawn_perry/1485201584/

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