The stimulatory qualities of caffeine have been known since ancient times. Caffeine is found in chocolate, dark sodas, tea and coffee. Coffee and caffeine has been a social preoccupation for centuries. Caffeine consumption around the world continues to involve almost every person in some form. It is consumed for mental alertness, physical performance enhancement and as a by-product of many other flavorful items ingested.
Caffeine is chemically related to adrenalin. The effects on the body are similar. In fact, when consumed caffeine will stimulate the production of adrenalin. All of the symptoms of the fight or flight reaction associated with adrenalin occurs in a milder form from the ingestion of caffeine. The class of chemicals both caffeine and adrenalin belong to are called sympathomimetic . They are neurostimulatory chemicals that prepare the body and mind to function quickly and effectively in response to stress. The most common reactions experienced are:
- Increased pulse and blood pressure. The body is preparing to deliver a burst of energy.
- Blood is shunted away from the gastrointestinal tract and directed towards the muscles and brain. Digestion and bowel motility slows and can cease.
- The iris of the eye dilates to allow more light to penetrate.
- The basal muscular tension is elevate to provide faster responses.
- Skin capillaries constrict causing a generalized paleness.
- Sphincters relax and feeling the need to void or move bowels is common.
- Inhibition of the lacrimal and salivary glands. Dry mouth is commonly experienced.
- Fats and proteins are mobilized to be available for energy production.
The action of caffeine increases metabolic rate and thermogenesis. It increases the production of all stress related hormones and free radicals. With chronic use it can accelerate aging and heart disease. It can accentuate certain psychological disorders, particularly those related to anxiety, panic, and stress disorders.
Caffeine is often used as a adjunct treatment for migraine headaches. Indeed, many people experience headache after discontinuation of chronic use.
Diuretic Effects of Caffeine
Diuretics are chemicals that increase urine output. Caffeine is a diuretic in people who are caffeine naive, or who use it infrequently. It decreases sodium re-absorption in the filtration system of the kidneys. Chronic users develop a tolerance to the diuretic effects.
Dehydration from the diuretic effects of caffeine in susceptible individuals could potentially occur during strenuous activity such as a workout. Adequate fluid intake during physical exertion is always important, and more so if caffeine has been consumed.
Performance Enhancement from Caffeine
There are several mechanisms by which caffeine could enhance physical performance.
- Caffeine is also classified as a xanthine drug. These medications are bronchodilators that include theophyllin, widely used for asthma and emphysema. The increased diameter of the breathing apparatus delivers more oxygen to fuel metabolic demands.
- CNS (central nervous system) stimulant. Allows for faster reaction times.
- Caffeine has chemical similarities to adenosine, an essential component of cellular energy. It has been shown to positively affect energy production on the cellular level.
- As a sympathetic stimulant, caffeine increases production of other stimulatory catecholamines from the adrenal glands and brain. Heart rate and blood pressure are increased. Blood, hence oxygen is diverted away from unessential processes to fuel the organs associated with the fight or flight response.
- The action potentials associated with muscle contraction are primed by caffeine. The ready state for the neuromuscular response is increased. This accelerates reaction time.
- Endurance may be enhanced as a primary effect of caffeine.
The Negative Side
Caffeine is a psychological and physically addictive chemical. Its use in training and sports can produce fluid balance issues in combination with exertional losses. It increases gastrin production in the stomach. Indigestion, nausea and ulcer disease can occur. Caffeine’s metabolic effects on glucose metabolism can produce hypoglycemic episodes combined with exertional energy, hence glucose demands. Many get dizzy and weak, nausea and headache an hour or more after caffeine ingestion. The rebound fatigue after its use can be profound. This creates a cycle of replenishment to then refresh alertness, not enhance performance.
Caffeine pervades our society. Anyone concerned about maintaining wellness and fitness should consider evaluating their personal caffeine consumption. It may not be the ideal situation to totally eliminate caffeine all together. Never abruptly discontinue use after chronic ingestion. Being aware of the effects of caffeine and having control over the positive and negative effects can significantly improve the quality of life.
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