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Caffeine: Cognitive Enhancer Or Brain-Wrecker?

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The Two Sides Of Caffeine

Bar chart showing varying opinions on caffeine, with the largest number considering it a safe cognitive enhancer, and progressively fewer respondents viewing it as a moderately safe recreational drug, a substance with addictive properties that make

We asked you for your health-related opinions on caffeine itself, not necessarily the coffee, tea, energy drinks, etc that might contain it.

We have, by the way previously written about the health effects of coffee and tea specifically:

As for our question about caffeine itself, though, we got the above-depicted, below-described, set of results:

  • About 59% said “caffeine is a safe stimulant and cognitive enhancer”
  • About 31% said “caffeine is a moderately safe recreational drug”
  • About 8% said “caffeine’s addictive properties make it de facto bad”
  • One (1) person said “caffeine will leave you a trembling exhausted wreck”

But what does the science say?

Caffeine is addictive: True or False?

True, though one will find occasional academics quibbling the definition. Most of the studies into the mechanisms of caffeine addiction have been conducted on rats, but human studies exist too and caffeine is generally considered addictive for humans, for example:

Caffeine addiction and determinants of caffeine consumption among health care providers: a descriptive national study

See also:

The caffeine dilemma: unraveling the intricate relationship between caffeine use disorder, caffeine withdrawal symptoms and mental well-being in adults

Notwithstanding its addictive status, caffeine is otherwise safe: True or False?

True-ish, for most people. Some people with heart conditions or a hypersensitivity to caffeine may find it is not safe for them at all, and for the rest of us, the dose makes the poison. For example:

Can too much caffeine kill you? Although quite rare, caffeine can be fatal in cases of overdose; such circumstances are generally not applicable to healthy individuals who typically consume caffeine via beverages such as tea or coffee.❞

~ Dr. Jose Antonio et al.

Read more: Common questions and misconceptions about caffeine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?

👆 this paper, by the way, also includes a good example of academics quibbling the definition of addiction!

Caffeine is a cognitive enhancer: True or False?

True, but only in the case of occasional use. If you are using it all the time, your physiology will normalize it and you will require caffeine in order to function at your normal level. To attain higher than that, once addicted to caffeine, would now require something else.

Read more: Caffeine: benefits and drawbacks for technical performance

Caffeine will leave you a trembling exhausted wreck: True or False?

True or False depending on usage:

  • The famously moderate 3–5 cups per day will not, for most people, cause any such problems.
  • Using/abusing it to make up for lost sleep (or some other source of fatigue, such as physical exhaustion from exertion), however, is much more likely to run into problems.

In the latter case, caffeine really is the “payday loan” of energy! It’ll give you an adrenal boost now (in return, you must suffer the adrenal dumping later, along with lost energy expended in the adrenaline surge), and also, the tiredness that you thought was gone, was just caffeine’s adenosine-blocking activities temporarily preventing you from being able to perceive the tiredness. So you’ll have to pay that back later, with interest, because of the extra time/exertion too.

Want to make caffeine a little more gentle on your system?

Taking l-theanine alongside caffeine can ameliorate some of caffeine’s less wonderful effects—and as a bonus, l-theanine has some nifty benefits of its own, too:

L-Theanine: What’s The Tea?


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