The Negative Effects of Caffeine

Dr. Tom Ferguson spelled out the many negative effects of caffeine in this installment of his regular column.

| January/February 1981

  • 067 negatives effects of caffeine - Fotolia
    An apparently innocent fresh cup of coffee betrays nothing about the many negative effects of caffeine. 
  • Medical Self Care - Tom Ferguson2
    Dr. Tom Ferguson wrote the Medical Self Care column in this magazine in the early 1980s.  

  • 067 negatives effects of caffeine - Fotolia
  • Medical Self Care - Tom Ferguson2

Millions of law-abiding North Americans are physically addicted to caffeine—a potent central nervous system (CNS ) stimulant—and aren't even aware of it. When deprived of their "fix," such addicts often experience severe withdrawal symptoms. These may include depression, throbbing headaches, disorientation, constipation, nausea, sluggishness, and irritability. And, as with other addictive drugs, heavy users often develop a tolerance, and require even higher doses to obtain the desired effects.

Other negative effects of caffeine include a dramatic increase in the rate of oxygen use by cells, muscle tension , stomach acid secretion,  and blood pressure—as much as 14% when taken in the form of two to three cups of coffee.  Caffeine has also been implicated as a possible contributing factor in birth defects and fibrocystic breast disease. (In fact, extremely large doses are potentially fatal.)

In spite of its potency, caffeine has only one medical use: the treatment of poisoning by CNS depressants. In fact, if caffeine were a newly synthesized drug, its manufacturers would have great difficulty getting it licensed for sale. And if it were licensed, it would certainly be available only by prescription.

Yet more than two billion pounds of coffee are consumed in this country each year. And caffeine is also found in teas, cola drinks, chocolate, and many over-the-counter "medicines."

A Case of Caffeinism

People's reactions to caffeine differ greatly, but an intake above one's Individual limit—whatever that may be—produces "caffeinism," a condition with symptoms indistinguishable from those of anxiety neurosis: extreme nervousness, irritability, tremulousness, chronic muscle tension, difficulty falling asleep, trouble sleeping soundly, sensory disturbances, increased frequency of urination, frequent loose stools, gastrointestinal upsets, and those alarmingly strong and rapid heartbeats that are known as palpitations.

However, in spite of caffeine's harmful effects, a researcher who recently reviewed the medical records of 100 randomly selected psychiatric outpatients found that not a single form contained any information about the person's tea or coffee habits, although 42% of the records made mention of anxiety symptoms. (One wonders just how many tranquilizer prescriptions have been handed out to clients suffering from undiagnosed caffeinism ... a condition that's estimated to affect up to 15% of all Americans.)

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