Caffeine: is it both good and bad?

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This week, I am going to dip my toe back into the controversial waters of caffeine and its effects on health and fitness.

Caffeine is one of those topics that gets both the pro and con camps pretty fired up about the good, the bad and the ugly as it relates to health and fitness. There is definitely a love/hate relationship with caffeine across a broad demographic. Some see it as a drug, others see it as a necessity, either way caffeine is woven into the fabric of our daily lives. People have been consuming caffeine in various forms for more than 10,000 years, so it is no surprise caffeine is so ingrained in our society.

Understanding that caffeine can be a moral issue for some and an adverse health issue for others, I would like to separate fact from myth when it comes to both the positive and negative aspects of caffeine with regard to your health. By no means do I promote caffeine use; that is a personal choice, so holster your blowback, I am just sharing information.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that over-consumption of caffeine can lead to real health problems. Consuming too much caffeine on a daily basis can worsen existing cardiac health issues, amplify anxiety disorders, lead to insomnia and cause digestive problems. So for those of you who do not see this as a drug-like substance, think again.

Some of proclaimed health benefits tied to caffeine use are improved memory, reduced inflammation, cleansed liver and stimulation of the nervous system, making you more alert. A recent study has even found caffeine boosts an enzyme in the brain that protects the brain from neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia.

For a very long time, fitness professionals and athletes have known caffeine use during exercise can enhance performance by increasing the concentration of endorphins in your brain and delay fatigue. Elite athletes also understand caffeine can increase the level of free fatty acids in the bloodstream, leveraging increases in fat burning for better fueling during endurance events.

Here are four benefits for caffeine use during exercise, keeping in mind there are a number of factors regarding how individuals will react to caffeine. What works for some does not work for all.

1. Low to moderation consumption of caffeine does not appear to cause health problems during exercise. In fact, more studies are finding that caffeine enhances the body’s ability to prolong stamina by helping facilitate adequate glucose and oxygen delivery to your key systems.

2. Caffeine can improve circulation. A research study done in Asia has found participants who drank caffeinated beverages regularly experienced a 30 percent increase in blood flow for more than 60 minutes after consuming caffeine. This can improve overall circulation which in turn improves overall oxygen delivery during a workout or athletic event.

3. Caffeine affects the central nervous system, altering the brain’s perception of how hard the body is working, which can help during difficult physical effort. For physically active people and athletes, low to moderate consumption of caffeine improves cognitive performance in both simple and complex tasks that require heightened alertness and focus such as athletic competitions.

4. Studies show that caffeine effectively increases the release of fatty acids into the bloodstream to be used as fuel during prolonged exercise. In simple terms, this release of fat for fuel allows the body a better mix of fat to carb fueling, especially for endurance athletes.

Here are four adverse effects of caffeine on your health, which may be a valid reason not to consume caffeine. These aspects will also vary based on the individual and other factors regarding how each of us reacts to caffeine.

1. Caffeine is addictive and even though it has mild addictive qualities, it is still similar to other drugs that stimulate neurotransmitters. Since caffeine increases the body’s natural level of dopamine, the substance does have a drug-like effect on your body.

2. Over consumption of caffeine can cause individuals to become immune to many of the positive effects caffeine may have. Abusing caffeine can in fact increase stress levels, anxiety and cause side effects such as headaches, jitters and stomach distress.

3. Caffeine does not provide additional energy to the body. Caffeine is a chemical that influences and stimulates key aspects of your brain and circulatory systems. Caffeine has little nutritional value and can cause your body distress and discomfort, even in small amounts with some people.

4. Caffeine can complicate pre-existing health problems. It is important to recognize the relevance of caffeine to your health and any complication it could cause with prescription medications you may be taking. Always check with your doctor if you have health concerns and make sure you are OK to consume caffeine even for occasional use.

Caffeine is not for everyone and there are many reasons to choose wisely and decide if consuming caffeine is right for you. Caffeine is rapidly and completely absorbed into your system within an hour following consumption. Its primary function is as a stimulant, and individuals do develop a tolerance to caffeine over time, often feeling withdrawal symptoms when they stop consuming caffeine. Everyone will vary in his or her response to caffeine use during exercise. There is a lot more information that should be shared regarding caffeine, so do your research before making it part of your exercise or competitive routine.

• • •

Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation in Coeur d’Alene.

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