Caffeine is one of the only drugs we embrace without guilt. We — the 87% of us who ingest caffeine — boast about being “so addicted,” duck out during work to get a fix and can’t even imagine the last time we didn’t start off the day with a hit.
“It’s the only drug that’s not really seen as a real drug, that doesn’t have a stigma. It’s one that many of us feel comfortable giving to our children in small doses,” says Murray Carpenter, author of Caffeinated, a tenaciously researched look into the physiology, psychology and commerce of caffeine.
And it is a drug — contrary to popular misconception. Though studies suggest that it can improve mood and concentration and increase life span, caffeine has a dark side, too — upping anxiety and sleeplessness in some, and even causing psychosis in a small minority.
“It’s a fantastic drug, but it amazes me that it doesn’t get much respect,” Carpenter says. “We consistently underestimate its role in our bodies, our brains and our daily activities.” We also underestimate how much we’re actually taking in.
A Starbucks grande bought at the same store during the same day might contain anywhere from 260 milligrams to 564 milligrams, depending on who is brewing the coffee and how much caffeine the beans contain. How much we weigh, our lifestyles and our genetic tolerance also contribute to how we digest caffeine.
In fact, our love for soft drinks might not be the only cause in the precipitous drop-off of coffee drinking, Carpenter explains.
Coffee consumption has fallen in tandem with smoking rates — and with reason. Smokers, because they activate a liver enzyme that digests coffee at double the rate of nonsmokers, need to drink twice the amount of coffee to get the same kick.
Women who are on birth control inhibit these same enzymes, which means they need half the amount of coffee to get their high.
“These are things that underscore that it is a powerful, important drug and each of us reacts differently to it. Most of us think of it as a mild stimulant, but is really is a powerful drug,” writes Carpenter…. see more