Kick-starting your morning with a cup of coffee seems like a logical idea — it’s not like you can cram more hours in the day to catch up on sleep. And let’s face it: If you’ve been up most of the night with a colicky baby, that much-loved morning cuppa might seem like your best friend. But according to a host of headlines, there’s trouble brewing in our love affair with caffeine.
The buzz about your buzz
What is it about caffeine that gives sleepy mommies that much-needed alertness? Caffeine is a mild stimulant found in several plants, including the common coffee plant, the tea bush, cocoa, kola nuts and guarana berries. The jolt you get from your java is thanks to the way caffeine blocks adenosine, a chemical that helps your poor, tired body wind down for sleep.
The good news
While there’s been a lot of talk around coffee klatches about the issue of “cumulative caffeine,” don’t fret. “The only cumulative effect known so far is that you develop a tolerance for it,” says James Hammond, a professor of physiology and pharmacology at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont.
More caffeine myth busting: There is no evidence that it causes fibrocystic breast disease. Unless you’re guzzling upward of 10 cups of coffee a day, it won’t dehydrate you. Nor will it cause osteoporosis, so long as you consume enough calcium and vitamin D. Caffeine even has its upsides — and nowhere near as many downsides as the doom-and-gloomers would have you think:
The bad news
Caffeine does have a dark side, though. Too much can make you jittery and anxious. Plus, even if you’re drinking what Health Canada considers a safe amount, there are some risks:
How much is too much?
According to Health Canada, women planning to become pregnant should consume no more than 300 mg of caffeine per day (although that number is being questioned; see Pregnant Pause). Other adults can get away with 400 mg. For the lowdown on how much jolt you’re getting, see How Much Kick Is in Your Cup?
Breaking the habit
Perhaps you feel it’s time you cut back caffeine or cut it out completely. Take heart: Doing so may be easier than you think. Consuming less can be as simple as switching beans. “Most people have no idea that bold coffee has less caffeine than mild coffee,” says Hammond. “Some people choose mild because they think it contains less caffeine.” While it takes only a week to become dependent on caffeine, it also takes just a week or two to say sayonara to the stimulant. “The good news is that there are no long-term effects from caffeine consumption,” says Hammond, but chances are good that you’ll have headaches and feel restless for about a week.
Because no one knows how much caffeine is safe during pregnancy, many doctors urge women to steer clear of it altogether. Health Canada’s recommendation of no more than 300 mg of caffeine per day has recently been questioned by a major British study, which found that as little as 200 mg of caffeine per day could result in miscarriage or low birth weight.
How much kick is in your cup?
Coffee, Tim Hortons 295 mL (medium): 100 mg caffeine
Coffee, Starbucks 354 mL (tall): 240 mg*
Coffee, instant decaffeinated 237 mL: 5 mg
Coffee, espresso 30 mL: 30–50 mg
Tea, average blend 237 mL: 43 mg
Tea, green 237 mL: 30 mg
Cola, diet or regular 355 mL (1 can): 36–50 mg
Red Bull energy drink 250 mL (1 can): 80 mg
Milk chocolate 28 g: 7 mg
Sweet chocolate 28 g: 19 mg
*Average caffeine content. Bold blends have less caffeine than mild ones.
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