Clare Dietitian

Here are questions and my answers from an interview on caffeine that I did in 2006. See also a similar interview I did about Vitamins and Athletes.

  1. Please outline the positive and negative effects of our daily caffeine (coffee/tea) consumption. Caffeine is a central nervous stimulant and can have some positive effects on the human body. Caffeine in low doses is thought to be associated with an improvement in sporting performance, increased alertness and reduction in fatigue potentially lifting a person's mood. Coffee and tea also contain some antioxidants which have positive effects on heart health. However, increased amounts of caffeine lead to dependency due to increased tolerance and hence the need for greater amounts to gain the same stimulatory benefits. Heavy users who have to go without can experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and fatigue. Too much caffeine can produce restlessness, nausea, sleep difficulties, upset stomach, increased urine production causing dehydration, and cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). It has also been associated with elevated blood pressure in sensitive persons.

  2. What is the "right" amount of coffee/tea to consume every day? The recommendation for safe drinking levels is 500mg per day, less for those with heart conditions, elevated blood pressure, and pregnant women (The last one may not interest your readers of course!). The average cup of instant coffee contains between 80 and 100mg/cup. The stronger the coffee the more caffeine it contains. Tea usually has less caffeine than this, except if it is very strongly brewed.

  3. Do the above answers differ as we grow older ie; males 20-30, males: 40-50? There is no evidence that the effect of caffeine changes with age, except that the older you are, the more likely you will be to have high blood pressure and heart problems.

  4. Do you believe such caffeine consumption effects our daily lives in any way such as relying on coffee too much to combat morning and afternoon fatigue? What are some alternate foods/drinks that can provide a similar solution to drowsiness whilst being better for us? Are they as effective as coffee? Caffeine is becoming more popular as well as easier to access with drive-through coffee shops and the proliferation of energy drinks. People often rely on caffeine to combat fatigue. The biggest problem with coffee consumption is that tolerance increases and then people become more reliant on it and require greater dosages to get the same effects – it  becomes a negative spiral and an addictive habit. There are many other ways to combat fatigue and food and exercise strategies can help.
    • Getting up from your desk at times during the day and moving briskly will help with blood movement and the fight against fatigue.
    • Running or walking at lunch time can help to improve energy levels during the afternoon.
    • Having a substantial breakfast is proven to improve concentration and attention span during the morning.
    • Eating foods that are low Glycaemic Index (GI) will give more sustained energy for the few hours after meals.
    • Having a mid morning or mid afternoon snack will lift blood sugar levels between meals to combat fatigue. Nutritious snack foods like yoghurt or fruit are carbohydrates foods that give the body and the brain the energy they require.
    • Avoiding large high fat meals at lunch can also reduce fatigue in the afternoon. After meals, blood is drawn away from the rest of the body to rush to the gastrointestinal system to help with distribution of nutrients during digestion of the food causing after lunch tiredness. This slump can be longer and more severe after high fat meals as they take longer to  digest.

    There is no conclusive evidence to implicate caffeine consumption as being significantly harmful to health, but there still is controversy with this. Having some caffeine daily is ok, but using the above food and exercise strategies can certainly help in reducing fatigue and avoiding caffeine addiction.


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