Coffee is the natural picker upper. It is the one thing that gets some us through the day, or at least out of bed. Coffee today is so common and seems so harmless that we forget that it is actually a psychoactive drug. What that means is that the caffeine drug is classified in the same category as nicotine, cocaine, amphetamine, LSD, opioids and anything else that can cross the blood brain barrier and alter our brain chemistry. So could coffee actually be potentially harmful then?
The answer right now is undetermined. Studies have shown that coffee has a different effect on everybody, and the answer is mostly based on our own genetics and lifestyle. Caffeine metabolizes at different rates in different people. The ones who should be most aware are infants, pregnant women and those with liver disease, as coffee digests slowest for them and puts them at greater risk for caffeine intoxication. It is also shown that men are actually more susceptible to the effects of caffeine than women. A caffeine drug overdose can cause insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, stomach upset, fast heartbeat and muscle tremors. Though must adults can handle up to 400mg of caffeine a day (up to 4 cups of coffee), anxious individuals or those who don’t drink coffee regularly are much more susceptible to negative effects.
Even though coffee by itself does not seem to be harmful, coffee coupled with other substances can be. This is particularly true of certain medications. Some antibiotics, especially Ciprofloxacin and Norfloxacin can interfere with the breakdown of caffeine. This increases the time caffeine remains in the body and amplifies negative affects. Another medication to be wary of is Theophylline. Theophylline opens up bronchial airways by having an effect similar to caffeine. As a result, coupling the two can increase the amount of Theophylline already in the blood. This may lead to vomiting, nausea and heart palpitations. The last drug to be aware of with caffeine is actually an herbal supplement. Echinacea, used to prevent colds and infections can increase the amount of caffeine already in the blood. Again, leading to negative effects.
As a whole, when taken with other medications, the caffeine drug can actually hinder the effectiveness of certain drugs. This actually has to do with the liver enzyme CYP1A2 that metabolizes caffeine and all other chemical substances (drugs). The more CYP1A2 we have in our bodies, the easier it is to metabolize (break down) drugs. When caffeine is mixed with other medications, they compete to be broken down by CYP1A2. As a result, break down is actually slowed down, so medications enter our blood stream slower and stay longer. This produces a wide range of side effects. In therapy drugs such as Lithium, caffeine may cause therapeutic failure, so you may not get the effects of the drug at all. In other drugs such as Tylenol and Aspirin it may actually make it more effective. A good rule is that while taking any drug, always be hyper aware of what you mix with it. Even simple foods like grapefruit can have surprisingly negative consequences.
Coffee is a great drink. But those using it should be aware that caffeine is still a drug. Therefore like any drug, it can have side effects, regardless of whether or not all are harmful. All in all, if you’re a regular coffee drinker, it’d be great to have a talk with your doctor. Especially if you have any prior health conditions or are thinking of taking a new drug. The caffeine drug is a great picker upper but can have many more effects than just that.