Caffeine Awareness Month should highlight the harm in caffeine reliance

This month, we have spring break to look forward to, and we typically observe St. Patrick’s Day and International Women’s Day among other events. March is also considered Caffeine Awareness Month in the health world — one of the more recent additions to the national phenomena that keep popping up as events on our news feeds. 

Most common in coffee and energy drinks that keep us going, caffeine dependence is something that many of us can relate to. We can’t imagine starting our days without a cup of joe, as it relieves us of that groggy feeling and helps us out of bed in the morning. Caffeine gets us through those late-night study sessions, and some of us even enjoy coffee or espresso drinks as after-dinner refreshments. Face it, coffee is an integral part of life, especially for college students. But how much is too much? 

For Caffeine Awareness Month, we’re breaking down the pros and cons of the stimulant, debunking myths and offering ways to cut back, in case you’ve found yourself too consumed with caffeine. 

Have you ever indulged in your third cup of the day for an energy boost, but only get shaky instead? It’s no secret that caffeine can cause the jitters, but what is it doing to your body, exactly? Caffeine boosts your adrenaline levels, which increase your blood pressure — hence why overconsumption of the stimulant is associated with heart attacks, cardiovascular disease and insomnia. Still, there are a lot of coffee addicts who claim that they feel nothing, no matter how much they drink. 

Research suggests that we quickly build up a tolerance to caffeine, and the only people who actually experience its perky effects are those who aren’t daily consumers. When avid coffee drinkers do feel its effects, it’s likely that their bodies are only being relieved of drowsy “withdrawal” symptoms that developed overnight. Once the caffeine wears off, they'll feel more drowsy than ever. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t classify caffeine as a drug for no reason. 

If you’re prone to headaches and anxiety, you should probably try to wean yourself off caffeine, too. Although caffeine has been proven to aid in pain relief — it’s a common ingredient in over-the-counter pain relievers like Aleve and Midol — it can also contribute to more pain if over-consumed. Since caffeine narrows blood vessels in the brain, they expand when the caffeine wears off, sometimes causing migraines. 

The same energizing effects that get people hooked on caffeine are also what make anxiety worse for people who are prone to it. Because caffeine stimulates our “fight or flight” response, the same feeling we get when we're startled or nervous, caffeine can make anxiety worse and even trigger a panic attack. If you love the taste and ritual of drinking coffee, but find it makes you too jittery, switch to decaf.

One myth that we can debunk is that coffee is a diuretic, and too much of it can dehydrate us and affect our internal health or outward appearance. While caffeinated beverages may have a mild diuretic effect, making us feel like we have to run to the bathroom a little more than usual, there’s no evidence that suggests caffeine dehydrates us. If anything, the natural water content in coffee contributes to our daily fluid requirement. 

Moderate caffeine intake isn’t necessarily a threat to your health, and studies show that small daily dosages can actually help more than it can harm. This month, simply become aware of your intake. If you’re guzzling more than one cup a day, it might be time to cut back. Caffeine in moderation not only reduces health risks, but also ensures you’ll get that buzz you’re craving. 

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