Updated: Jun 28, 2020
By Claire Yuan, Copy Editor
All over the globe, crowded coffee shops and cafes are popular hubs for busy high school and college students rushing to finish last-minute assignments. The caffeine rush instantly helps these students fight off the shadows of sleep deprivation, but very few stop to think about what the caffeine is actually doing to their bodies.
The most commonly used drug in the world, caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant commonly found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and countless other everyday products. Each day, millions of people consume caffeine to fight off fatigue and improve wakefulness and concentration throughout the day. In the United States, for example, more than 90 percent of adults ingest caffeine on a regular basis. The average amount consumed is more than 200 milligrams per day, which is more than two cups of coffee or five cans of soft drinks.
Of course, like most medicinal substances, caffeine presents both health benefits and drawbacks. In controlled doses, caffeine has shown to protect brain cells against diseases such as Parkinson’s. In addition, caffeine causes blood vessels to constrict and stimulates the gallbladder, decreasing the risk of headaches and gallstones. Coffee also reduces inflammation and the risk of some heart diseases. Caffeine may be taken in conjunction with painkillers to treat migraines and simple headaches, as well as to prevent headaches post epidural anesthesia. The drug has also been taken to alleviate the effects of asthma, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), recovery after surgery, Hepatitis C, lung problems in newborns, low blood pressure, and many more.
Unfortunately, caffeine intake also presents many health risks. First, the regular consumption of caffeinated coffee has been linked to osteoporosis, a disease in which the density and quality of bones are reduced. This results in an increased risk of fracture due to an excessive porousness and fragility of the bones. In addition, the regular consumption of caffeine can increase blood sugar levels — a menacing problem for people with diabetes.
In a way, the effects of caffeine on the human body are rather ironic; most people consume caffeinated beverages to stay awake during the day, but the end result could be increased fatigue. This is because caffeine disrupts sleep and, in particular, deep sleep cycles; the resulting poor quality of sleep often overpowers any positive stimulation by caffeine during the day. As much as it may be used as a crutch to stay alert, caffeine cannot replace our need for sleep.
Despite how mundane and safe caffeine may seem, it is still a drug with potential for harm. In very high doses (usually in combination with ephedrine), caffeine can be used as an alternative to illegal drugs. In addition, substances such as caffeine powder, which are very high in caffeine concentration, make it easier for consumers to overdose, which can potentially cause death.