Stimulants have been around the block a few times. Since prehistory, people have used a variety of substances to energize, motivate, and inspire. They may be popular, but stimulants also cause problems. They all work by mimicking or triggering the release of the three primary chemical messengers or neurotransmitters: dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. That’s what makes us feel motivated and high.
Found in more than one hundred plants throughout the world, caffeine is consumed primarily in beverages. A half-dozen caffeine-containing plants are more widely used than all other herbal materials combined!
More than a thousand years ago, Muslims used coffee for religious rituals. Finally reaching Europe in the seventeenth century, it was seen by the authorities as a dangerous drug. Nonetheless, coffeehouses spread, as did dependence on this new drug. The rest is history. Together with tea, it comprises 97 percent of worldwide caffeine consumption. Some parts of the world use other forms of caffeine—guarana, maté, and kola nut—which are now becoming more popular in the West.
Caffeine was first isolated from coffee in 1821. The effects of coffee are more potent than those of caffeine alone, since it contains two other stimulants—theophylline and theobromine. These weaker versions of caffeine are also found in decaffeinated coffee.
Let’s take a look at your response to a cup of coffee:
• Within minutes, you feel more alert and focused.
• Your mood may improve, and your memory may seem a bit sharper.
• You might also begin to feel jittery.
• You may soon have the urge to urinate. (Coffee is a diuretic.)
• In an hour or two, you might notice yourself feeling down, foggy, and drowsy, and even irritable or cranky. You will probably start to crave another cup of coffee.
We drink caffeine to boost our mood and energy. We feel alert, motivated, and stimulated, until reaches its peak concentration in 30–60 minutes, after which it is inactivated by the liver. After 4–6 hours. only half its peak level is left.
So where’s the danger? Caffeine is addictive. Research shows that consuming as little as 100 mg a day can lead to withdrawal symptoms when you stop, which include headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and drowsiness. It’s worth knowing that, while a small cup of instant coffee may contain less than 100 mg of caffeine, a large cup of “designer” coffee can contain as much as 500 mg—five times the “addictive” dose. Even more chemicals are used in manufacturing decaffeinated coffee, and, in the end, it still contains traces of caffeine—about 0.5 mg per 8-ounce cup.
Downsides of Caffeine
• Overstimulated central nervous system, leading to increased risk of heart attacks, irritability, insomnia, and rapid and irregular heartbeats.
• Elevated blood pressure (hypertension).
• Elevated blood-sugar and cholesterol levels.
• Heartburn and other gastrointestinal problems.
• Fibrocystic breast disease.
• Diuresis (excessive urination), which can lead to dehydration.
• Increased risk of birth defects if used during pregnancy.
• Contains tars, phenols, and other carcinogens, as well as traces of pesticides and toxic chemicals used in the growing and extraction processes.
At best, we can say that coffee has minor short-term mental and emotional benefits but they are not sustained. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry observed 1,500 psychology students divided into four categories depending on their coffee intake: abstainers; low consumers (1 cup or equivalent a day); moderate (1–5 cups a day); and high (5 cups or more a day). On psychological testing, the moderate and high consumers had higher levels of anxiety and depression than the abstainers, and the high consumers had higher incidence of stress-related medical problems coupled with lower academic performance.
Instead of coffee, we have a wide variety of natural substances that supply the immediate boost of coffee but without the negative side effects. Rather, they enhance our productions of neurotransmitters, working with the body’s design rather than against it. Here are some of my favorites:
- DL-phenylalanine (DPLA): an amino acid, and precursor for tyrosine, which converts dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. It not only enhances mood and promotes energy, but also relieves pain and controls appetite.
- Tyrosine: A precursor to the stimulating neurotransmitters dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and thyroid hormone, thyroxine, it has been used by the military to improve mental and physical performance under stress. Tyrosine enhances mood, energy and motivation.
- Rhodiola. Grown in the Arctic regions of Siberian, it is known as Arctic root and improves concentration, stress resistance, physical performance, and mood.
- NADH, or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, is a small organic molecule found naturally in every living cell and plays a key role in energy production. Among its many benefits, it improves mental clarity, cellular memory, alertness, and concentration.
- Coenzyme Q10: stimulates cellular production of energy, is a good antioxidant, enhances energy and endurance.
- Siberian, Asian, and American ginseng: supports the adrenal glands, increases immediate energy, restores vitality, energy, and endurance over time, increases mental and physical performance.
- Ashwaganda: both energizes and calms, enhances libido, memory, and cognition.
- Licorice: improves adrenal function, which makes you feel more vital and motivated.
- Reishi mushroom: stabilizes adrenal hormones, both calms and energizes, sharpens mental function
Why not boost your energy naturally, with nutrients that rebuild your brain chemistry rather than deplete it?
Article Author: Hyla Cass M.D. is a physician practicing integrative medicine and psychiatry. She combines the best of natural medicine with modern science in her clinical practice and appears regularly on TV, radio, and has been quoted in many national magazines. A member of the Medical Advisory Board of the Health Sciences Institute and Taste for Life Magazine, she is also Associate Editor of Total Health Magazine, she has served on the boards of California Citizens for Health and the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM). She graduated from the University of Toronto School of Medicine, interned at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, and completed a psychiatric residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center/UCLA. She is the author of several popular books including: Natural Highs, 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health, and Supplement your Prescription: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Nutrition.
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