Caffeine - what is it and what does it do to you?

By Rob Taylor

Almost every student has an encounter with using caffeine as a study aid in university or college. But few understand what caffeine is, where it comes from and what effect it is actually having on their bodies besides keeping them awake.

What products have caffeine in them?
Most people know that coffee, tea and cola have caffeine in them. As a general rule, coffee has the most amount of caffeine in it, followed by tea and cola. Caffeine can also be found in chocolate and some painkillers, but generally in very small amounts.

In Canada, there are rules stating that caffeine cannot be added to any beverage unless it occurs in the ingredients naturally. So coffee, tea and cola can have caffeine in them, because it occurs naturally in coffee beans, tealeaves and kola nuts. Caffeine cannot be added to orange juice, since it does not occur naturally in oranges.

Some products have been using a loophole in the law that allows caffeine to be added to beverages classified as natural health products, such as energy drinks.

What does caffeine do to you?
Besides keeping you awake, caffeine speeds up your heart rate, increases your blood pressure and increases the blood flow to your muscles.

Some people can build up a tolerance to caffeine, meaning that they must consume more for it to have an effect on them.

Are there any dangerous or adverse effects of caffeine?
Yep. Primarily caffeine can keep you up when you're tired enough that you should be sleeping. When the drug wears off, you could crash and become very tired. So if you use caffeine to keep yourself awake, you're just putting off the inevitable. You might also end up with a headache after the caffeine is gone from your system.

If you have too much caffeine, you might also experience heightened nervousness, restlessness and insomnia. Having an increased heart rate can be an uncomfortable feeling for many people.

Overdosing on caffeine can lead to serious side effects, such as stomach problems or even hallucinations. Your thought and speech patterns may also be adversely affected (meaning that consuming a lot of caffeine while you study or write a test may have the exact opposite effect to what you intended).

In very high doses, caffeine can even kill you, but this would be hard to do. A lethal dose of caffeine for a healthy adult male is about 10 grams of caffeine. The average cup of coffee has between 40 and 100 mg of caffeine. So, assuming you were drinking coffee that had 100 mg of caffeine in it, you'd have to drink 100 cups of coffee in very short order. It's more likely you'd throw up before you reached a lethal dose.

However, this does not mean that people have not been killed as a result of abusing caffeine.

A student in North Carolina overdosed and died from caffeine in 1998. He was dared to consume a bottle of caffeine pills that was the equivalent of 250 cups of coffee.

Most other cases of death by caffeine are a result of accidental poisoning.

What kind of effect can caffeine have on studying?
Besides keeping you awake, some people believe that caffeine helps you concentrate more and study better. There are conflicting studies concerning this. Some studies maintain that there is an increase in brain activity as a result of caffeine intake, while other studies suggest that only people who regularly consume caffeine benefit mentally from its intake. Still others say it has no benefit concerning concentration at all.

And as mentioned before, consuming too much caffeine can have a negative effect on your thought process. So be careful and try to get some sleep during your busy periods, rather than drinking a lot of coffee.

Modified on April 23, 2009