Are Your Pick-me-ups Letting You Down?

Become Stimulant Savvy! 

Half Asleep Woman With First Cup of Coffee

Upon stumbling out of bed in the morning, most of us head straight to the coffeepot for our first caffeine fix of the day. This is promptly followed by a mid-morning latte and a cappuccino or two at lunch. And although this caffeine “overdose” will keep you sufficiently wired up to a point, it will inevitably drop you into a serious mid-afternoon slump… leading to yet another cup of your favourite java. With all those stimulants rattling around in our systems, it’s no wonder that so many of us struggle to fall asleep at night and start our day feeling dead on our feet before we are even on them!

Another cup of coffee?

Many people don’t realise that caffeine and other stimulants can be just as addictive as other substances such as nicotine or alcohol. Because it is so readily available, and such a large part of our culture, no one thinks twice about how much they are consuming. But why are so many people enthusiastic to the point of addicted to their caffeine fix?

• It’s a quick energy lift

This is probably the primary reason people become addicted to stimulants like caffeine. A cup of coffee or an energy drink is a quick and easy fix for low energy levels, especially when you have to stay awake and alert.

• It changes our brain chemistry

Caffeine stimulates the production of dopamine and makes us feel good (albeit temporarily). Dopamine is well-known for its pleasure-enhancing properties so it feels good to have more of it bouncing between our synapses in our brain.

A spot of tea?

While most people know that coffee and energy drinks are packed with stimulants, few realise that their cup of tea may also contain similar ingredients.

• “Normal” tea or black tea

A cup of tea contains between 30mg and 90mg of caffeine per cup, depending on the brand. Although this is less than a cup of coffee (80mg – 140mg), it is still a significant amount.

• Green tea

Green tea is a favourite among the health conscious, but is not stimulant-free as many believe. A cup of green tea contains about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of black tea, as well as small amounts of theobromine and theophylline. However, the effects of these stimulants may be balanced out by the presence of the amino acid L-Theamine, which helps to calm the nervous system. This might explain why green tea doesn’t give the drinker a “kick” like coffee does! Green tea also contains antioxidants that are good for health.

• Herbal tea

The term “herbal tea” is generally used to describe non-caffeinated drinks made by infusing herbs, spices and other plant materials in water. These include but are not limited to chamomile, Rooibos, mint, lemon, berry etc. These teas are a good source of hydration provided you don’t add too much sugar or honey.

Energy (sapping) drinks

As everyone who’s every studied or pulled an all-nighter knows, an energy drink can be a lifesaver. Specifically formulated to raise your energy levels quickly, these drinks are packed with high levels of stimulants such as sugar, caffeine, ginseng and guarana. However, the higher they pick you up, the harder they put you down. Once the initial energy spike wears off, you are likely to feel more tired than before as your system crashes and craves its next fix.

One energy drink every once in a while might not have long-term adverse effects, but regular consumption is not recommended. Drinking too many which may be as little as two energy drinks in one day can lead to nausea, irritability, sleeplessness, abnormal heart rhythms and even seizures.  It can also be dangerous to combine energy drinks with alcohol as the stimulants will mask the hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and can also worsen the effects such as abnormal heart rhythms.

Be careful too of the supersized energy drinks now available. It is easy to think that you are getting value for money but you’ll also be getting a whole load of stimulants that may cause you to crash and leave you feeling low rather than high.


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