Java coffee can impact your health

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Coffee Dependence

For some people, the day doesn't begin until they have had their third cup of coffee. And while these slaves to Starbucks often make light of their coffee compulsion, Laura Juliano says a physical dependence on caffeine is no laughing matter.

"We have all heard someone say, 'I can't function without my coffee,'" says Juliano, professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences. "The fact of the matter is, we know if someone doesn't get coffee, he might become jittery, develop a headache, or have problems concentrating.

"Drugs affect the pleasure centers of the brain, and caffeine is no exception," continues Juliano, who's currently running 13 caffeine- and nicotine-related studies in AU's Behavioral Pharmacology and Health Promotion Laboratory. "It makes us feel good when we get it, and bad when we don't."

What makes caffeine unique from other drugs is that complete abstinence is neither optimal nor realistic. Caffeine is present in so many products, from yogurt to decaf coffee (an 8 oz. cup boasts 5 mg of caffeine), it's nearly impossible to completely avoid. Besides, in moderate doses it's pleasurable.

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"In general, people do best at levels of about 200 mg of caffeine or less per day," says Juliano. At that consumption level, which amounts to about two 6 oz. lattes or cappuccinos, people will still enjoy caffeine's pleasurable effects, including happiness and sociability. Much more than that, though, and people are likely to experience jitteriness, anxiety, and insomnia.

"I think it's part of my role as a researcher and educator to inform the public about the effects on the body, and how caffeine can be used safely and in an optimal way," says Juliano.

That's no easy task, though, considering most people have no clue how much caffeine they are consuming in their morning espresso - let alone in their chocolate bar, coffee ice cream, or energy drink.

According to Juliano, if caffeine is found naturally in a product, like coffee or tea, it doesn't have to be listed as an ingredient. Caffeine must be labeled if it's added to a product like soda, "but even then, you don't know much," says Juliano.

"Caffeine is a very difficult drug to use, in that sense," she continues. "When you smoke, you know how many cigarettes you are going through. But most people have no idea how much caffeine is in a cup of coffee." (In fact, the coffee suppliers, themselves, don't always know how much caffeine is in their product unless they send it to a lab for testing.)

Juliano recommends people use the National Sleep Foundation's caffeine calculator - available at www.sleepfoundation.org to

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