Caffeine: The Double-Edged Sword

     The most common drug in the world is not alcohol, over the counter pain relievers, or tobacco. It is our good friend caffeine by far and it is warmly embraced by the culture of the United States and the rest of the world. Usually it is in the form of coffee or tea but there are more and more caffeinated concoctions and products on the market every day now (and I’ve probably tried them all). From my current experience of working 50-60 hour weeks for the last 3 years, I’ve learned that when the going gets tough, the tough drink caffeine. It’s a necessity for crazy people like me that burn the candle at both ends, but what does caffeine really do to your health? There is a lot of controversy over the pros and cons of coffee and other caffeine-containing products so I’d like to help clear up some misconceptions and state the facts.

        Caffeine is a legal drug (except in moderate-large amounts for NCAA athletes) with stimulant properties that increase the heart rate, increase metabolism, and create diuretic effects. Caffeine intake helps burn significantly larger amounts of fat for energy, which makes it the key ingredient in nearly all weight loss pills and diets on the market. It can also increase feelings of happiness, mental alertness, energy levels, and cardiovascular endurance. Moderate to high levels of caffeine correlates with a reduced risk in Parkinson’s Disease, heart disease in some, and many other serious conditions. Caffeine can even temporarily relieve pain and is included in many headache and migraine medications. It truly is a wonder drug if taken correctly, but chronically large intakes can lead to some major health problems in many individuals.

       Like any other drug, caffeine can be very addicting. In fact, the major reason why soft drink companies originally added it to their drinks was to create addiction to their product. I’m sure if it were possible (and maybe it will be at some point), big tobacco would have added caffeine to cigarettes to add to the already potent addictive properties of nicotine. If you stop consuming caffeine after high usage, your body will start to go through a variety of withdrawal symptoms. You can have mood changes due to hormonal and other chemical imbalances in your brain. Without caffeine many people feel lethargic, may have severe headaches, and can feel nauseous. These symptoms subside in days or weeks but they can be extremely debilitating in certain individuals especially when mixed with other drugs or alcohol. Other things to consider when taking caffeine is that it can dehydrate you so you’ll need to drink extra water throughout the day. Most health and fitness professionals will advocate drinking an 8 oz glass of water for every 8 oz cup of tea or coffee consumed. For most, caffeine shouldn’t be taken at night or sleep disturbances or disorders will occur.

        Although I don’t always follow my own advice, I would recommend 1-2 8 oz cups of coffee (or up to 3 cups of caffeinated tea) per day at the most to gain its benefits and minimize any potential health issues. Abstain from caffeine completely once or twice a week so you do not continue to build an even greater tolerance to it. If you do drink large amounts of caffeine temporarily, try to wean off it slowly over a period of several days or a week. Enjoy your caffeine but please drink it in moderation, bottoms up!

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