Caffeine Calamity

cup of black coffee on shabby table

By Makenna Adams

“Caffeine stunts your growth!” says practically everyone ever. Is this true? If this statement has any merit, it seems to have been lost on me—I’ve been eating dark chocolate my entire life, which contains 12 mg of caffeine per serving, and turned out to be 5’10”. Myths, like this one, concerning caffeine have been around since the chemical became a staple in people’s everyday lives. (Which, if you consider the success of coffee businesses, is quite close to forever.) Fascinatingly, the responses to such myths are polarizing; some individuals claim they can’t live without their daily caffeine pick-me-up while others deem it the devil-drug. To better understand the stimulant, allow me to disprove the most popular myths about caffeine and discuss its actual side effects, both mental and physical.  

Myth Number 1: Caffeine Stunts Your Growth

Verdict: False

Certainly, caffeine does not directly stunt one’s growth. A report from John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital clarifies that caffeine consumption does not directly correlate to lack of growth; rather, copious amounts of caffeine consumption correlates unfailingly to sleeplessness. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, which causes the welcome energy boost consumers look for when feeling groggy and reaching for their daily brew or any other form of caffeine. However, when the energy boost impedes on sleep time, that’s when problems start. Asleep, the body recharges. Not enough of sleep, (for adolescents, the ideal time is 9.5 hours), and the body can’t recharge properly. As caffeine interferes with sleep, body processes, like the production of growth hormones, function less efficiently. 

Conclusion: It’s okay to consume caffeine as a teenager. Just make sure that you consume it early enough in the day so that by the nighttime, the effects have worn off. The time caffeine takes to work its way out of the body is subjective, but on average, it takes 5 hours for a teenager to work through a caffeine energy boost, after consuming 40 mg of caffeine (which is the average amount in mg per intake of caffeine, like in one cup of coffee.)

Myth Number 2: Caffeine is Bad For You

Verdict: False

Due to the large amount of people some who admit to having a dependency on caffeine, it’s easy to chalk up the chemical as “bad.” While there are some negative side effects to consuming caffeine, there are also positive ones. I created the list below which explains positive effects of caffeine after reading an article from Penn Medicine which outlines the benefits of consuming caffeine. Caffeine has the power to:

  • Improve memory by increasing energy levels and alertness
  • Provide essential nutrients and antioxidants, when it is part of nutritious food, like the dark chocolate I mentioned earlier, which also has many powerful antioxidants. 
  • Helps detox the liver—as your body digests caffeine, a chemical called paraxanthine is produced which slows the growth of the scar tissue involved in fibrosis (the scarring of tissue). 
  • Relieve post-workout muscle pain. Caffeine can help reduce inflammation in the body which leads to pain; researchers theorize that caffeine blocks pathways involved in the production of inflammatory molecules, which cause pain. 
  • Ward off diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by reducing the amount of beta amyloid in the brain. 
  • Protecting against cataracts. Bioflavonoids in caffeine away the oxygen radicals that can lead to cataract damage.

The key to making the most of the advantages of consuming caffeine is moderation. Too much of any good thing and the good effects are lost; “A cup or two of coffee each day is harmless; five or more cups may be overkill” the report from Penn Medicine details. 

Myth Number 3Caffeine gives you energy. 

Verdict: Mostly false. 

Put on your chemistry lab coats for a second. 

Consider the fact that caffeine is a stimulant chemical, and that stimulants promote feelings of alertness. Next, keep in mind that specifically, caffeine is a “adenosine receptor antagonist” stimulant. Now, get this—adenosine is a substance in your body that works oppositely from caffeine: it promotes sleepiness. The feeling of alertness that you get when you consume caffeine is the caffeine blunting the effect of adenosine in your system. This action against the adenosine keeps you from feeling sleepy, which creates the sensation of feeling energized. 

Unlike food, caffeine is not turned into energy by the body. That process is cellular respiration, and is very different from the process which makes you feel energized after consuming caffeine.

In short: caffeine does not “give” you energy; rather, it prevents sleepiness by blocking receptors that receive signals for sleepiness. 

How cool is that?!