Jessica Dean and Robin Rodriguez

If you walk around campus in the morning, you will see them standing and waiting. Groups of tired students and staff, waiting with “to-go” lids in hand, eyeing the girls behind the counter.  They form a crowd around the counters at Julian’s in the UU and at Campus Market.  Yet, only hours later they’re back again in the afternoon waiting for their coffee fix. 

Its clear, at Cal Poly, we love our coffee. The average American drinks about three cups of coffee a day.  We drink so much coffee, in fact, that it was proclaimed to be the number one source of antioxidants in our diets.  This may not be a good thing as coffee is beating out excellent antioxidant sources such as fruits and beans, with regards to amounts we consume.

So what are the effects of those daily cups of coffee?   Well, the most immediate effect will be an increase in alertness and an improvement in short-term memory.  The caffeine in your daily cup of coffee acts as a stimulant. As a drug, caffeine acts by blocking the neurotransmitters in your brain that would give you a sleepy feeling.  You’ll feel energized and more able to focus on boring, repetitive tasks.  As we all know, a cup of coffee will keep you awake just a bit longer to help you finish that term paper just before dead week.

The jury is still out on the long-term effects of drinking coffee.  Studies trying to show a relationship between coffee or caffeine and conditions such as cancer and infertility only show some correlations but no direct effects.  The antioxidants in coffee might help you, and the oils in the coffee might have an adverse effect on your cholesterol as well. The stimulant effect may cause a temporary rise in your blood pressure and an increase in your body temperature that will last for a few hours. But caffeine is not retained in the body, so within a few hours, you’ll begin to feel back to normal.  Or you’ll be back in line waiting for another cup.

One thing we do know, is that caffeine causes some calcium loss in the urine. So it may increase your risk of osteoporosis.  However, the amount of calcium lost is about the same amount as you would get from about two tablespoons of milk.  One article we found recommends drinking milk with your coffee to counterbalance the effect.  But the choice is yours.

There are some things you should know about the limits of caffeine too.  Experts warn that children and teens should not have any more than 100 mg of caffeine per day.  That’s about the caffeine content of an 8-ounce cup of coffee (or two cans of soda).  You should also watch what else you’re drinking with that coffee.  That super large coffee with whipped cream and caramel isn’t just coffee, it’s a lot of extra calories. Calories that you and your children don’t need.  The most interesting fact we uncovered is that its actually possible to overdose on caffeine.  The lethal dose is estimated at 150 mg per kilogram (kg) of your body weight.  One kg is equal to about 2.2 pounds. 

So even though we still aren’t sure about the long-term deleterious effects of caffeine, its clear that life-long dependence on a stimulant isn’t the best way to go.  Its relatively easy to become dependant on caffeine, and cutting back is always hard.  You can try to go cold turkey, but the easiest way is to cut back by about half a cup per day.  You can order a smaller cup and keep track of how much you drink during the day.  It may be easier than you think. 

Footer: Jessica and Robin are senior nutrition students and Peer Health Educators. They can be reached at ahealthyhabit@gmail.com.

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