Caffeine: The Good, The Bad, and the Maybe Not So Bad

This article was published on: 08/26/14 7:25 AM

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’ve got two interesting topics to share with you in this post. The first one is caffeine.

Caffeine: the Good, the Bad, and the Maybe Not as Bad for Us as We Think

A recently released book provides us with some surprising, or maybe not so surprising, information. Even if you don’t take in much caffeine, plenty of people you know do, and as consumers and health-conscious people, what I’ll share with you is essential to know.

Murry Carpenter, a freelance journalist, traveled the world to understand everything there is to know about caffeine. This past spring he released his book, Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us.

Maybe you’ve read it? According to Carpenter, people are endlessly fascinated with caffeine.

As a health and fitness professional, I was very interested to read what he learned.

For instance, did you know there are synthetic caffeine factories? I didn’t.

Carpenter visited them and it turns out the largest one is in Shijiazhuang, China. It shipped 4.7 million pounds of caffeine to the United States in 2011 and most Americans who have consumed soft drinks since then have consumed this caffeine.

More than half the caffeine Americans consume come from these factories in China and India. The synthetic caffeine industry’s doors are sealed tight so even the FDA isn’t inspecting overseas plants.

To make this point even stronger, you’ll notice that on bottles and cans there is no information as to whether the caffeine is natural and coming from coffee, tea, or cacao plants, or whether it’s synthetic. Of course, synthetic caffeine comes from a chemical process, and who knows what the effects of all the chemicals will be.

Consumer Information About Caffeine Content

As you would imagine, there’s not an abundance of consumer information available to us about caffeine because as Carpenter says, “It’s an uncomfortable conversation for Starbucks, Coca-Cola, 5-Hour Energy or any of those companies to have and discuss the fact that they are selling a drug that makes you feel good.” Synthetic caffeine is much less expensive to use than natural caffeine, so that’s part of what motivates companies to keep the conversation quiet.

Apparently synthetic production increased during the World War II era because soft drinks were becoming popular and coffee consumption was peaking. Back then, Americans consumed 46 gallons of coffee per person a year.

Over time, coffee consumption has dropped but soft drink consumption has skyrocketed. In 1945 Monsanto created the first synthetic caffeine factory and then Pfizer jumped into the game as well. But labor was cheaper overseas, so the factories moved.

What Effect Does Caffeine Have on Us?

Caffeine, regardless the source, does sharpen the mind and improve moods. It blocks the adenosine receptors in the brain that trigger sleepiness so you perceive an energy boost.

Some athletes use caffeine to boost performance. Yet just 100 milligrams a day can lead to physical dependence. That’s the amount in one small coffee or three cans of soda. And as anyone who has tried to go off caffeine knows, the withdrawal symptoms can be headaches, muscle pain, weariness and sometimes depression.

Just so you know, the Mayo Clinic published a healthy eating and nutrition report stating that up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. So it’s up to you to decide for yourself because for some people, even a small dose of caffeine can lead to anxiety and panic attacks.

If you’re interested in a deeper look at this topic, take a look at the book. I feel it always helps to understand what we’re eating or drinking and what’s in it and where it comes from.

Calming the Effects of Caffeine

Even just writing about caffeine got me jittery, so I’d like to tell you about a very special calm and quiet place I came upon a few weeks ago in Berlin.

I was walking towards the Brandenburg Gate and saw a big sign that said SILENCE. Turns out there’s a non-denominational Room of Silence in a small building just before the gate and it’s been open since 1994. It’s a wonderful space. It’s modeled after a room Dag Hammarskjold commissioned in 1954 for the United Nations.

The Room of Silence has a dual purpose. Anyone can enter and remain in silence for a while to relax, meditate, feel gratitude, or whatever. The room also has a symbolic meaning as a continuous invitation to tolerance.

The Brandenburg Gate was originally built 200 years ago and conceived as the Gate of Peace, so it’s the perfect spot for this room.

When you enter the Room of Silence the first thing you see is the word “peace” written in 46 different languages. I absolutely loved the space and hope you all get to see it sometime soon!


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