Ah, coffee.

The pleasure of waking, the bane of sleep, the namesake of this blog and friend to exam-takers everywhere.

At this moment of writing, I’m feeling terribly lethargic and awful after an odd-timed sleep of 8.00 am – 2.00 pm. I was deprived of a good night sleep last night due to caffeine.

All because I craved for a delicious coffee fix after dinner. Bad idea, that one.

And this morning, while I was bleary-eyed, trying to close the eyes that won’t shut, I managed to read an article at New York Magazine: The Coffee Junkie’s Guide to Caffeine Addiction. It’s an eye-opening take on the favourite beverage and its effect on human physiology, in this age where coffee consumption is skyrocketing, and a lucrative business at that. As a junkie friend of the author confessed:

“Lately, I’ve been kind of freaking people out. I’ve been ordering five-shot sugar-free grande soy lattes. People look at me like I’m a freak. But at least they remember my order, right?”

The fact of the matter is simple, coffee contains caffeine. And caffeine is a drug, just like cocaine and metamphetamine. It’s a stimulant.

They both release adrenaline which triggers our “fight-or-flight” response, making us alert and energetic, while at the same time increasing the level of dopamine, which makes us happy. The only difference is how much they do it:

Cocaine and amphetamines essentially do the same thing, only they create not just a pleasant feeling but outright euphoria. Methamphetamine and crack, because they’re highly concentrated, create an even more intense feeling. But the higher a drug’s highs, the lower its lows, which is why a crack user needing a fix might rob an elderly neighbor at gunpoint while a coffee drinker might simply get snippy with co-workers.

Another interesting point, on how caffeine might be “safer” than its other stimulants is its amazing built-in self-regulating mechanism. I’m sure a lot of coffee addicts have suffered from nausea, anxiety, jitters and various feelings of low after consuming copious amounts. It’s a state called “caffeinism” that you get when you’re overdosed:

Too much cocaine makes you feel invincible; too much coffee makes you think you’re having a nervous breakdown.

So, how long do you have to wait until the caffeine is flushed out from your body and the caffeinism stop? It depends, say the article:

Women generally metabolize caffeine faster than men. Smokers process it twice as quickly as nonsmokers do. Women taking birth-control pills metabolize it at perhaps one-third the rate that women not on the Pill do. Asians may do so more slowly than people of other races.

Bad news then for a non-smoker Asian men, like me. Lucky I don’t take the Pill.

The article goes on describing various results of experiments to determine the benefits of drinking coffee, which might include:

  • slashes rates of Parkinson’s disease
  • inhibits the formation of gallstones
  • wards off cirrhosis
  • helps prevent Alzheimer’s
  • relieves asthma symptoms
  • less likely to develop skin cancer
  • suicide risk decreased with each cup of coffee consumed per day, up to seven cups
  • a cup of coffee hydrates people about as well as a cup of water
  • a serving of coffee has more antioxidants than a serving of either grape juice or blueberries

However, the drawbacks might include:

  • more than twice as likely to have a miscarriage
  • contributes to low birth weights in children
  • babies born with a caffeine dependence
  • a factor in female infertility
  • dangerous for people with type 2 diabetes
  • exacerbates osteoporosis
  • causes migraines

I’m a skeptical person. So I won’t believe any of the benefits or drawbacks above until it’s properly documented. Which by that time I might already be dead or on a caffeine drip, so no worries.

Another research claims that the reported effects of caffeine are merely psychological. We don’t get a boost because we drink coffee, we are just relieving the symptoms that we get from caffeine withdrawals. As one experiment is described:

Because caffeine withdrawal can commence in just twelve hours, by the time each study’s jonesing test subjects were given either caffeine or a placebo, they had begun to suffer headaches and fatigue. For the half that received the stimulant—poof!—their withdrawal symptoms vanished. The other half remained uncaffeinated, crabby, and logy, and guess which group scored higher on cognitive tests time after time?

The conclusion seems to be that caffeine does work, albeit mysterically. While the best way is to take it in small doses, because bingeing will cause a lot of adverse effects.

Or quite simply, maybe a simple nap works better, as a recent study claims.

As for me, keep bringing the coffee. Screw tea!

“I never drink coffee at lunch. I find it keeps me awake for the afternoon.”
– Ronald Reagan