Caffeine is a drug that stimulates the central nervous system (CNS). Caffeine is found naturally in coffee, kola seed kernels or nuts (Cola nidtida), and a variety of teas. Other foods and beverages, such as chocolate and soft drinks, also contain caffeine, and the drug can be purchased in over-the-counter tablet and capsule form. Some prescription pain relievers, medicines for migraine headaches, and antihistamines also contain caffeine.
Caffeine makes people more alert and less drowsy and improves one’s coordination. It is sometimes included in athletes’ diets to improve physical performance. In addition, one study found that older people who were given a cup of caffeinated coffee in the morning had fewer late-day memory problems than those who were given decaffeinated coffee. Combined with certain pain relievers or medicines for treating migraine headache, caffeine enables those drugs to work more quickly and effectively. Caffeine alone can also help relieve headaches. Antihistamines are sometimes combined with caffeine to counteract the drowsiness caused by these drugs. Caffeine is also sometimes used to treat other conditions, including breathing problems in newborns and in young babies after surgery.
Kola can be prepared in decoction or tincture form. A decoction is prepared by mixing 1–2 tsp of powdered kola nut in a cup of water. After bringing the water to a boil, the decoction should be simmered on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Tinctures of kola nut can be purchased at many health food stores or from mail order suppliers. A tincture is an herbal preparation made by diluting the herb in alcohol, glycerin, or vinegar. Dosage of kola tincture varies by formula and the symptoms or illness it is supposed to treat, but an average recommended dosage might be 1–4 mL three times daily. Powdered kola nut and kola tinctures should be stored in airtight containers away from direct light to maintain potency. For over-the-counter caffeine preparations, adults and children age 12 years and older should take 100– 200 mg no more than every three to four hours. In timed-release form, the dose is 200–250 mg once a day. Timed-release forms should not be taken less than six hours before bedtime. Caffeine pills or tablets are typically not recommended for children under 12 years of age.
Persons should avoid taking too much caffeine as an over-the-counter drug. It is important for individuals to consider how much caffeine is being taken in from coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks, and other foods. It is advisable to check with a pharmacist or healthcare professional to find out how much caffeine is safe to use.
Caffeine cannot replace sleep and should not be used regularly to stay awake as the drug can lead to more serious sleep disorders, such as insomnia.
People who use large amounts of caffeine over long periods build up a tolerance to it. When that happens, they have to use more and more caffeine to get the same effects. Heavy caffeine use can also lead to dependence. If an individual stops using caffeine abruptly, withdrawal symptoms may occur, including headache, fatigue, drowsiness, yawning, irritability, restlessness, vomiting, or runny nose. These symptoms can go on for as long as a week. In addition, caffeine dependence is not confined to the adult population. Studies have shown that American teenagers have a high rate of caffeine dependence, partly because they consume large amounts of carbonated beverages that contain caffeine.
If taken too close to bedtime, caffeine can interfere with sleep. Even if it does not prevent a person from falling asleep, it may disturb sleep during the night.
The notion that caffeine helps people become sober after drinking too much alcohol is a myth. In fact, using caffeine and alcohol in combination can lead to an upset stomach, nausea, and vomiting. Older people may be more sensitive to caffeine and thus more likely to have certain side effects, such as irritability, nervousness, anxiety, and sleep problems. Research also suggest that people with insulindependent
diabetes should monitor their caffeine intake. One study found that caffeine appears to decrease insulin sensitivity by about 15% of individuals.
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Anyone with allergies to foods, dyes, preservatives, or to the compounds aminophylline, dyphylline, oxtriphylline, theobromine, or theophylline should check with a physician before using caffeine. Anyone who has ever had an unusual reaction to caffeine should also check with a physician before using it again.
Caffeine can pass from a pregnant woman’s body into the developing fetus. Although there is no evidence that caffeine causes birth defects in people, it does cause such effects in laboratory animals given very large doses (equal to human doses of 12–24 cups of coffee a day). In humans, evidence exists that doses of more than 300 mg of caffeine a day (about the amount of caffeine in two to three cups of coffee) may cause miscarriage or problems with the baby’s heart rhythm. Women who take more than 300 mg of caffeine a day during pregnancy are also more likely to have babies with low birth weights. Any woman who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant should check with her physician before using caffeine.
Caffeine passes into breast milk and can affect the nursing baby. Nursing babies whose mothers use 600 mg or more of caffeine a day may be irritable and have trouble sleeping. Women who are breast-feeding should check with their physicians before using caffeine.
Other medical conditions
Caffeine may cause problems for people with these medical conditions: peptic ulcer, heart arrhythmias or palpitations, heart disease or recent heart attack (within a few weeks), high blood pressure, liver disease, insomnia (trouble sleeping), anxiety or panic attacks, agoraphobia (fear of being in open places), premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
At recommended doses, caffeine can cause restlessness, irritability, nervousness, shakiness, headache, lightheadedness, sleeplessness, nausea, vomiting, and upset stomach. At higher than recommended doses, caffeine can cause excitement, agitation, anxiety, confusion, a sensation of light flashing before the eyes, unusual sensitivity to touch, unusual sensitivity of other senses, ringing in the ears, frequent urination, muscle twitches or tremors, heart arrhythmias, rapid heartbeat, flushing, and convulsions.
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Using caffeine with certain other drugs may interfere with the effects of the drugs or cause unwanted—and possibly serious—side effects. Certain drugs interfere with the breakdown of caffeine in the body. These include oral contraceptives that contain estrogen, the antiarrhythmia drug mexiletine (Mexitil), the ulcer drug cimetidine (Tagamet), and the drug disulfiram (Antabuse), used to treat alcoholism.
Caffeine interferes with drugs that regulate heart rhythm, such as quinidine and propranolol (Inderal).Caffeine may also interferewiththebody’s absorptionof iron. Anyone who uses iron supplements should take them at least an hour before or two hours after using caffeine.
Serious side effects are possible when caffeine is combined with certain drugs. For example, taking caffeine with the decongestant phenylpropanolamine can raise blood pressure. Very serious heart problems may occur if caffeine and monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors are taken together. These drugs are used to treat Parkinson’s disease, depression, and other psychiatric conditions. Persons who use caffeine should consult with a pharmacist or physician to find out which drugs can interact with caffeine.
Because caffeine stimulates the nervous system, anyone taking other central nervous system stimulants should be careful about using caffeine.
Researchers have shown great interest in the effects of caffeine on degenerative and neurological disorders. Multiple international studies show that habitual caffeine consumption reduces the likelihood of developing Parkison’s disease (a degenerative neurological disorder) and dyskenesia (loss of voluntary muscle control, a symptom of Parkinson’s and other disorders). Despite this hopeful evidence, a 2013 study out of France, published in Neurobiology of Disease, found the opposite to be true when dealing with Huntington’s disease, another degenerative neurological disorder. The study found a link between habitual caffeine consumption and an early age of onset for
Huntington’s disease patients. A promising 2012 study in Food Chemistry used a mouse with Alzheimer’s disease to measure the effects of caffeine. The study found that in the Alzheimer’s mouse, caffeine improved learning and memory and reduced cell death.
Studies have shown that caffeine combined with analgesic medications may provide more pain relief than found in analgesics alone. These studies have focused on certain types of pain, including postoperative dental pain, postpartum pain, dysmenorrhea (excessively painful menstrual cycles), and headaches. The additional relief from caffeine appears to be small and studies have yet to determine ideal dosages.