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Caffeine: Friend or Foe?

M3 India Newsdesk Feb 27, 2017

Caffeine, isolated from Arabian mocha beans in 1819 by a young physician, chases away sleep and improves mental performance by relieving fatigue. Conversely, caffeine’s after effects include reduced cognitive performance and a negative mood.




Doctors, especially, need to monitor their caffeine intake to ensure that patients do not suffer from the ill-effects of their caregivers’ caffeine habits.


Coffee Is My Friend


Doctors often function in a stressful environment that involves making life-altering choices for their patients and long working hours resulting in sleep deprivation. Predictably, a 2010 survey of more than 3,600 workers by CareerBuilder and Dunkin' Donuts discovered that nurses and physicians topped the list of people who considered coffee intake was essential for their productivity.


In 2015, British Medical Journal published a study regarding the coffee drinking patterns of doctors at a large Swiss teaching hospital. Results show that average coffee intake was highest amongst orthopedic surgeons, radiologists, and general surgeons, while anaesthetists consumed the least. Interestingly, male doctors consumed more coffee than their female counterparts.


Chemically caffeine (or 1,3,7- trimethyl xanthine) stimulates the central nervous system and cardiac muscles but relaxes the smooth muscles. Caffeine exerts its neuropsychiatric effects by blocking adenosine receptors. Hence, caffeine reverses adenosine-induced reduction in attention and sleepiness which leads to increased alertness and less fatigue. Adenosine blockage also increases dopamine and glutamate which enhances mood, energy, and overall cognitive performance.


Friend with Short-Term Benefits


Excessive caffeine consumption causes agitation, irritability, restlessness, and lack of clarity. Caffeine may trigger insomnia, reduce cognition, and increase blood pressure. Caffeine-induced shallow, rapid breathing may loweroxygen availability for the brain, leading to reduced attention and poor judgement. Lifestyle disease prevention specialists opine that caffeine aftermath doubles the fatigue since the caffeine-stimulated brain may counter-release chemicals that inhibit the alert response.



A word of caution


The American Psychiatric Association documents four caffeine-related conditions: intoxication, anxiety disorder, sleep disorder, and unspecified caffeine-related disorder.


The European Food Safety Authority, in 2015, advises an upper daily limit of 400 mg of caffeine consumption from all dietary sources including tea, coffee, chocolate, cocoa, and caffeinated drinks — for adults. Psychiatrists caution against the addictive nature of high-caffeine energy drinks which contain 154mg to 500mg caffeine per drink.


An average cup of brewed coffee contains about 100 mg of caffeine; thus, 4 cups of coffee per day is deemed safe for most adults. In contrast, instant coffee and tea contain 75 mg and 50 mg caffeine per cup, respectively. Caffeine appears to be a frenemy for doctors; useful in small doses to stay active and alert but potentially harmful in large doses.


Learn more about this topic:


  1. An observational study of doctor's coffee purchasing patterns at work
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