8am walking to class, it is rare to see a Bucknellian without a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts logo in hand. Coffee and energy drinks have become an integral part of the college experience. From late nights studying in the library to early morning exams, it seems like we cannot function as a person without our caffeine fix. I even have a mug that reads “Instant Human: Just Add Coffee.” This caffeine-filled lifestyle is not only a more recent trend but also causing serious health problems.
In our parent’s day, coffee drinkers brought to mind that classic image of police officers in a diner drinking a cup of joe on a late night shift. College students were not as likely to drink coffee or rely on it for their daily jolt. However, the culture has clearly changed. Now cafés and coffeehouses can be found on every street corner of any major city. Who could forget the Friends cast congregating at their local coffee house, Central Perk? Coffee shops have become social gathering places for people to talk, write, read, and entertain one another. It is clear that these hot spots, which historically come from Europe, have become a prominent aspect of daily life in the United States.
Not only are we congregating in these places, but the caffeine options have grown exponentially. Macchiatos, cappuccinos, frappuccinos, lattes, espresso, and the list goes on…! These drinks vary greatly, adding more sugar and caffeine into our diets. So what does this say about our culture? Now that coffee has become such an essential part of our lives, the toll this trend is taking on our bodies is increasingly important.
First, what is caffeine?
Caffeine is a white crystalline xanthine alkaloid and a stimulant drug. It can be found in a variety of plants including coffee beans, tea leaves, kola nuts, cocoa trees and flex plants. It can also be found in sodas, chocolate, and some prescription/over-the counter drugs. In humans, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, which wards off drowsiness and restores our alertness temporarily.
It is unsurprising to hear people on line for coffee joking about needing their “fix” to get through the day. Although a stimulant, caffeine does not threaten your physical, social, or economic health the same way that other drugs do. However, its addictive qualities are similar. When we intake caffeine our bodies experience an energy boost for a while, but eventually we crash as the effects wear off. This creates a dependency on caffeine, so that the more coffee we drink, the more caffeine we need to feel energized. This cycle results in people drinking caffeine all day long to continue to function normally. However, although this routine will ward off sleepiness in the morning, excessive caffeine intake can lead to many negative health effects.
Excessive caffeine intake (1000–1500 mg per day) can result in a syndrome known as caffeinism. Symptoms include nervousness, irritability, trembling, restlessness/insomnia, heart palpitations, headaches, anxiety, and depression. The long-term effects of excessive caffeine intake include:
- High/Ongoing spikes in blood pressure
- Fast Heart Rate
- Stomach ulcers
- Acid reflux
Since most people do not view caffeine as addictive, they do not recognize the connection between their daily cups of coffee and these symptoms. If you face these symptoms regularly, considering gradually removing caffeine from your diet.
Removing caffeine from your diet can be a challenging task. Most commonly people have a headache within the first 12 to 24 hour period after eliminating caffeine. Additional symptoms include irritability, fatigue, dysphoric mood, difficulty concentrating, depression, muscle aches and stiffness.
If you are ready to start limiting the amount of caffeine you have in a day consider trying a few alternatives! You can start off by changing your morning usual to “half cafs” which are half caffeinated/half-decaffeinated coffee. Herbal tea is another great alternative because it has antioxidants and other health benefits that will keep you feeling energized. Plus it will still give you something warm to drink in the morning! Stopping your coffee intake immediately will likely leave you with irritating withdrawal symptoms. So start off slow, and consider cutting down to one cup of coffee a day. Remember, like with anything else that we do, moderation is key.
So what does all this mean for us?
In order to avoid going through these symptoms and the eventual necessary withdrawal period, consider sticking to a daily intake of no more than 400mg of caffeine. The way that we as college students drink caffeine, all day, every day, and all night long, makes us more susceptible to caffeine addiction and abuse. If we don’t stop and pay attention to how our daily caffeine dose is affecting our body we could have some tough health problems in the future. Caffeine is a part of our culture and our daily lives, so eliminating it entirely would be nearly impossible. So before you start avoiding every Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts in the area, remember it is okay to order that Large Mocha Frappuccino with whipped cream…just don’t do it everyday!