How Caffeine Affects the Body

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Caffeine is best known for its stimulant, or "wake-up," effect. Once a person consumes caffeine, it is readily absorbed by the body and carried around in the bloodstream, where its level peaks about one hour after consumption. Caffeine mildly stimulates the nervous and cardiovascular systems. It affects the brain and results in elevated mood, decreased fatigue, and increased attentiveness, so a person can think more clearly and work harder. It also increases the heart rate, blood flow, respiratory rate, and metabolic rate for several hours. When taken before bedtime, caffeine can interfere with getting to sleep or staying asleep.

Exactly how caffeine will affect an individual, and for how long, depends on many factors, including the amount of caffeine ingested, whether one is male or female, one's height and weight, one's age, and whether one is pregnant or smokes. Caffeine is converted by the liver into substances that are excreted in the urine.

Some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others. With frequent use, tolerance to many of the effects of caffeine will develop. At doses of 600 milligrams (about six cups of coffee) or more daily, caffeine can cause nervousness, sweating, tenseness, upset stomach, anxiety, and insomnia. It can also prevent clear thinking and increase the side effects of certain medications. This level of caffeine intake represents a significant health risk.

Caffeine can be mildly addictive. Even when moderate amounts of caffeine are withdrawn for 18 to 24 hours, one may feel symptoms such as headache, fatigue, irritability, depression, and poor concentration. The symptoms peak within 24 to 48 hours and progressively decrease over the course of a week. To minimize withdrawal symptoms, experts recommend reducing caffeine intake gradually.

CAFFEINE IN FOODS AND BEVERAGES.

Food/Beverage

Caffeine (milligrams)

Coffee

Espresso coffee, brewed, 8 fluid ounces

502

Coffee, brewed, 8 fluid ounces

85

Coffee, instant, 8 fluid ounces

62

Coffee, brewed, decaffeinated, 8 fluid ounces

3

Coffee, instant, decaffeinated, 8 fluid ounces

2

Tea

Tea, brewed, 8 fluid ounces

47

Tea, herbal, brewed, 8 fluid ounces

0

Tea, instant, 8 fluid ounces

29

Tea, brewed, decaffeinated, 8 fluid ounces

3

Chocolate Beverages

Hot chocolate, 8 fluid ounces

5

Chocolate milk, 8 fluid ounces

5

Soft Drinks

Cola, 12 ounce can

37

Cola, with higher caffeine, 12 ounce can

100

Cola or pepper-type, diet, 12 ounce can

49

Cola or pepper-type, regular or diet, without caffeine, 12 ounce can

0

Lemon-lime soda, regular or diet, 12 ounce can

0

Lemon-lime soda, with caffeine, 12 ounce can

55

Ginger ale, regular or diet, 12 ounce can

0

Root beer, regular or diet, 12 ounce can

0

Chocolate

Milk chocolate bar, 1.55 ounces

9

M & M milk chocolate candies, 1.69 ounces

5

Dark chocolate, semisweet, 1 ounce

20

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 16 July 2003.

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