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Caffeine and anxiety

Caffeine is a substance that is found in certain plants although it can be produced artificially (synthetically) and added to foods. It is a central nervous system stimulator and a diuretic (a substance that helps the body eliminate liquids).

Caffeine is rapidly absorbed and passes on to the brain. It does not accumulate in the blood stream nor is it stored in the body. It is eliminated from the body through the urine many hours after its consumption. There is no nutritional value to caffeine and it can be avoided in foods.

Caffeine stimulates or excites the brain and the nervous system. It does not diminish the effects of alcohol despite the fact that many people believe that a cup of coffee helps to overcome alcohol´s effects. Caffeine can be used for short-term alleviation of fatigue or sleepiness.

Caffeine is widely consumed and is found naturally in the leaves, seeds and fruits of more than 60 plants such as tea leaves, kola nuts and cocoa beans.

It is also found in processed foods:

  • Coffee: 100 mg/cup
  • Tea: 14 -60 mg/cup
  • Chocolate: 45 mg in a 1.5 oz (42 g) bar
  • Colas: in the majority, 45 mg in a 12 oz (340 ml) drink, unless the label specifies “”caffeine-free””)
  • Energizing drinks, snacks, sweets, chewing gum: 40-100 mg/serving

Caffeine is often added to medicines that do not require a medical prescription, such as analgesics, over-the-counter diet pills and cold pills. It is flavorless and can be separated from a food by a chemical process called decaffeination.

Side effects

  • Caffeine can cause:
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleeping problems
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Frequent urination
  • Vomiting

Quitting caffeine consumption can cause withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

There has been a great deal of research on the health effects of caffeine, the results of which have found, among other effects:

  • Large amounts of caffeine can stop the absorption of calcium and cause a thinning of bone mass (osteoporosis).
  • Caffeine can cause painful lumps in the breasts (fibrocystic breast disease)

Caffeine may also harm a childs nutrition if the caffeinated drinks are used as a substitute for healthy drinks such as milk. Caffeine reduces appetite as well so a child will eat less.

Anxiety is uneasiness and nervousness and, in its intense forms, anxiety can appear in a group of disorders called anxiety disorders. Caffeine is a stimulant that increases heart rate and can produce nervousness and agitation, which result in an increase in anxiety levels. For those who are not normally anxious, caffeine can cause anxiety, and for those who already suffer from anxiety, caffeine can cause panic attack.

As a stimulant that increases heart rate, caffeine makes some people feel that their heart is beating more strongly, even causing panic attacks. A panic attack is an intense sensation of terror and a loss of control. According to Roland Griffiths, professor in the departments of psychiatry and neuroscience in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, caffeine can trigger and worsen anxiety and panic disorders. It can also cause nervousness, headaches and tachycardia.

The National Institute of Mental Health recommends that persons who have anxiety disorders avoid caffeine as it can worsen their anxiety. Psychologist Norman B. Schmidt has studied the effects of caffeine on his patients who have anxiety disorders. While some persons can feel more centered and full of energy with caffeine, those who are predisposed to anxiety often feel nervous and have a sensation of imminent death.

Some foods or drinks (stimulants such as coffee, tea, guarana extracts, ginseng; and alcohol) that are part of a meal can have substances that stimulate the nervous system and over activate the organism which can provoke anxiety, nervousness and insomnia, for example, and at the same time reduce the availability of vitamins and minerals in the body. The caffeine found in coffee, colas and energizing drinks is the most common stimulant. More than 100 milligrams/day is not recommended, about the amount found in a cup of coffee or two cola drinks. Theine, found in tea, also has stimulating effects. For persons with anxiety problems, decaffeinated drinks are recommended.

Alcohol in its initial phase immediately after consumption may have a disinhibiting effect which makes people think it is a stimulator when, in reality, it is a nervous system depressant that can negatively alter moods, and has a rebound effect of anxiety hours later in persons predisposed.

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