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Trouble Brewing: The Health risks of Caffeine

By Jennette Turner

Every morning, all across America, folks are having their morning cup o’ Joe- with breakfast or without; at home or in a cafe- at work or in the car. It’s popular stuff, as evidenced by the vast proliferation of coffeehouses and espresso bars.
In fact, the average American drinks over 30 gallons of coffee a year!

The average American also drinks 32 gallons of caffeinated sodas a year, and about as much tea. Plus, there are hundreds of over the counter medications that list caffeine in their ingredients, like headache and allergy medicines. And then there’s the caffeine in chocolate- candy, cocoa, ice cream, cookies, pastries...

So what’s the deal with this collective addiction of ours? People use caffeine for many reasons: to wake them up in the morning, to give them energy during the day, to help them “go” faster, as a laxative, as a “buzz”... Make no mistake. Caffeine is a drug. Perhaps the most popular one, worldwide.

What would happen if people stopped taking it? Can you imagine not having your coffee?

Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands, releasing substances called catecholamines. These cause your heart to pump harder than usual and your liver to release glucose into the bloodstream. Eating refined sugars causes the same reaction- blood sugar skyrockets, the pancreas secretes insulin to bring the level back down to an appropriate level. There’s an initial lift, but then the sugar level drops below normal, causing fatigue and other hypoglycemic symptoms.

Caffeine also unnaturally stimulates the central nervous system which can lead to anxiety and nervousness, insomnia, depression and various types of heart disease. And it prevents one of the body’s natural “relaxer” hormones (adenosine) from being accepted by the brain. So when your body needs to put the brakes on, it can’t. It’s like oil under your tires at a red light- you keep moving.

Caffeine (and coffee in particular) has implications for digestion, too. It destroys the villi of the small intestine, reducing their ability to assimilate nutrients. It especially interferes with the absorpbtion of iron. It can overstimulate the gastric juices, a factor in gastritis and ulcerative conditions. It can cause diarrhea and over the long term play a part in irritable bowel symptoms.

Caffeine increases the excretion of calcium and magnesium through the urine, which indicates bone loss. And long term caffeine consumption has the effect of making it harder for the body to retain calcium. Something to think about with all of the focus on osteoporosis lately...

There are specific concerns for women who use caffeine. It has been linked to the development of breast lumps and cysts, and it can cause breast tenderness and moodiness prementrually. Pregnant women are advised not to consume caffeine because it increases the rate of miscarriage and birth defects.

Yet despite the health risks, we just can’t get enough of the stuff! With the ever-increasing pace of our lifestyles, as we push ourselves to do more and more each day its no wonder that we need some help. But what is it costing us?

Imagine sleeping well at night and then waking up refreshed -- without coffee. It can happen! When your diet and lifestyle become more balanced, coffee becomes unnecessary. If you eat a diet that gives you energy, the desire for caffeine will decrease. Of course, there is withdrawl... But that usually only takes 2-4 days, and there are some natural remedies you can use to help yourself through it.

Why not learn to take un-coffee breaks and use that time to care for yourself in a positive way? It takes some effort and willingness, but the health benefits are worth it!

Jennette turner is a Natural Foods Educator in Minneapolis. She Teaches public and private classes, and offers individual nutrition consultations. Jennette launced Dinner with Jennette (www.jennette-turner.com/dinner), to make it easier for people to incorporate natural foods into their diets. she can be reached at jennette-turner.com / 612-374-6039

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