November 26, 2007

High society or caffeine society?

Writes Karen McCarthy

In the fast paced society that we live in today, it is hard to imagine coping with the workloads we endeavour to without some form of artificial stimulant.


Despite what some RTE documentaries might have us believe, caffeine is the most commonly chosen stimulant among adults in the business world. Approximately 80% of the world's population consumes it on a daily basis, which isn't hard to believe when you consider that 70% of all soft drinks consumed contain caffeine.

Although caffeine is a highly addictive drug, it is, in fact naturally found in plants. The plants use it as a form of pesticide to prevent insects from eating the plant by killing them.

However, despite the natural origin of caffeine, it is none the less addictive and, once ingested, caffeine is completely absorbed into our systems within 30 to 45 minutes. There, it has a powerful effect on coronary arteries and the pulmonary and systemic vessels, causing a greater flow of blood to the heart muscle, but decreasing the flow of blood to the brain by constructing cerebral blood vessels. This can cause abnormally fast, slow and irregular heartbeats.

Caffeine is hugely present in the business world. From the morning coffee and midmorning coffee break to even taking coffee to cure the 3.00 pm slump, many of us repeatedly and intentionally use caffeine to stimulate both our bodies and our minds daily.

The irony is that the effect caffeine has on our bodies is the exact opposite. While it can't be disputed that the initial feeling after consuming caffeine is a lift, this is in fact no more than adrenalin stimulation. So as we feel that adrenalin pump through our tired bodies, the after-effect is fatigue, headaches and even depression.

Many people realise the effect that caffeine has on their bodies but feel they need something to enable them to meet their deadlines. However, it must be noted that caffeine does not improve the thinking of a tired brain; instead it gives a false sense of alertness which is merely increased sensory and motor activity. So as you force your body to stay awake and work on overtime, the quality of your work is suffering too. Your body is crying out for rest and you are ignoring its needs.

There are long term effects of caffeine intake too.

Researchers have found a link between caffeine users and heart disease, types of cancer, hypoglycaemia and colon related diseases. It has also been known to affect sleeping patterns. Caffeine stays in our system for up to six hours, so if taken after 1.00 pm, it will affect your sleep that night.

So as we wake up still feeling tired, we reach for the culprit and start the circle all over again.

Many people reading this will not consider themselves a caffeine addict, but how much is too much? A low to moderate consumption of caffeine is considered to be between 130 to 300mg per day and anything over 6000mg is an addiction. So, as we knowingly reach for one or two cups of coffee a day are we addicted?

The problem is that a lot of the time we are not even aware of our caffeine intake. While we intentionally take caffeine in the form of tea or coffee, we may not be aware of its presence in other parts of our daily diets. Caffeine is also produced synthetically and added to food, beverages, supplements and medication. While it is required by law to state this on the packaging, how many of us really read the labels of the products we consume?

In the case of medication, often tablets we take for headaches add to the pain.

Caffeine dehydrates you and causes headaches, so as you take a tablet for a headache caused by too much coffee, you are unwittingly increasing your caffeine headaches.

Caffeine consumption, like any addiction, is a vicious circle waiting to be broken. If you cannot meet your deadlines or perform to the best of your ability, your body is telling you something. Either you are working too hard or you are not fuelling your body sufficiently to deal with what you put it through on a daily basis.

In order to break free of this circle you have to take time to look at your life. If the business you are involved in demands long hours during which you need to be fully alert, then you need to remove artificial stimulants and instead eat a high protein diet, get lots of exercise and sleep.

Working in the business world, it is hard to avoid temptation. As your co-workers go for their morning coffee, you don't want to miss out on the socialising or the break. So instead of having a tea or coffee like everyone else, why not try herbal tea or a fruit smoothie? Your body and your boss will thank you in the long run.

Quitting an addiction is easier said than done. It takes time, patience and dedication.

From repeatedly using caffeine, our bodies have become dependent on it – and so coming off it will affect our ability to function, our moods and even our health. Just as there are side affects to taking a drug there are side affects to quitting. With caffeine, you will get headaches, feel tired and cranky, but this will pass. For this reason it is a good idea to wean yourself off it by gradually cutting down; after all up to 300 mg of caffeine a day is acceptable. Once you get through the initial phase you will feel natural energy coming back to you and wonder why you ever needed caffeine in the first place.