Answering Our Caffeine Conundrums

Monday, March 17, 2014

For many of us, caffeine is a huge part of our daily lives, but we actually know very little about it. Murray Carpenter, journalist and the author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us (Hudson Street Press, 2014) explains the history and effects of this addictive, legal, "performance-enhancing" drug, and answers some basic "caffeine conundrums."

Our List of Caffeine Conundrums

  • It has all the effects of a drug, but we don't necessarily think of it as a drug.
  • It's a huge part of our daily lives, for decades and decades, but we think of it very casually.
  • We know it's working, but we're not sure how.
  • A lot of us drink it every day, but we still haven't figured out exactly how much is enough.
  • It works on almost everyone, but in really different ways.
  • A cup of coffee is almost entirely water, but does it dehydrate us?


Murray Carpenter

Comments [28]

Larry Love

I gave up caffeine 4-5 years ago because it was causing seizures. Even today, if I accidentally have a bit when I'm not paying enough attention, I will have a petit mal seizure 2-3 days later. Not fun.

Mar. 23 2014 10:09 AM
Michael Zullo from Manhattan

There's nothing better than a delicious cup of cappuccino in the morning to start your day off on the right foot - wide awake and ready to go.

Mar. 21 2014 03:25 AM
YaWonda from nyc

People worry about this too much.

If you are generally healthy with your coffee intake, it's working for you. Find something else to obsess about.

If you can't tolerate coffee, or are drinking a ton of it (say, 24oz/day), cut that in half for 2 weeks. Still have an issue, cut it on half again.
Some people thrive a certain amount of caffeine; Bach guzzled coffee, so do many programmers.

There's another study to tell you whatever you wanted to hear about it, just pick whatever studies back up what you want to believe.

Mar. 18 2014 07:44 PM
Marie from Rockaway

Is there a difference between a cup of coffee black and a cup of coffee with cream and sugar, in regards to caffeine potency and consumption? Assuming both cups had 8 ounces of the same coffee in it, are you still ingesting and processing the same amount and level of caffeine?

Mar. 17 2014 12:11 PM
Elizabeth from montclair

Can one become intolerant to caffeine, coffee, after many years of consumption? I have about 1-2 cups a day but have noticed some unexplained symptoms in my body lately. I have had numbers blood test done and MRI's with no explanation of tingling in my body. I read some people build up an intolerance to caffeine and do get tingling symptoms from it. Also I read the proteins in coffee are similar to that of Gluten. So would an intolerance of gluten, also all of the sudden create the intolerance to caffeine?

Mar. 17 2014 12:00 PM
Josh Karan from Wasihngton Heights

Two Caffeine Questions:

1) What about the long term affect on the adrenal gland, often leading to adrenal breakdown over time?

2) How many people can drink coffee black; is there not a problem in that caffeine intake usually involves simultaneous large intake of sugar?

Mar. 17 2014 11:59 AM
Publius from NYC

People believe that espresso has a lot of caffeine because it has a strong taste. Actually the strong taste comes from double roasting. The heat of double roasting destroys caffeine and the stronger the espresso tastes, like French roast, the less caffeine there is. French roast is practically decaf. Of course people feel the caffeine that isn't there, because they believe it is there.

Mar. 17 2014 11:58 AM
Alan from New York

From NPR: Jittery Jams: Ten Songs for Coffee Lovers

There's a great recording of "The Coffee Song" by Bob Dorough, but I can't find a link.

Mar. 17 2014 11:58 AM
Claire from White Plains

Please talk about the latest findings of caffeine's relationship to cystic breasts. A few years ago, this was considered a major factor. I went from 3 to 1 cup a day and my cysts shrunk and have never come back.

Also caffeine and asthma.

Mar. 17 2014 11:57 AM
Robert from NYC

I had the headache experience. A number of years ago I spent a weekend at a cousin's house in Connecticut. I was a several cups a day drinker so I continued that at my cousin's house and he was kind to feed it to me as needed, as it were. After about 7 pm the first evening i started to get a headache which got worse over the weekend to the point that by Sunday afternoon not even Tylenol with codeine helped and the pain was sooooo intense. It never went away until Monday evening when I was home and had drunk about 2 cups of coffee at home. I thought, "WHAT?!" could it be Frankie? Does he give me a headache! Nah, I love my cousin, he's always been my second older brother. Long story short, it turns out that Frankie drinks decaffeinated coffee ONLY and so that's what I was unknowingly drinking. Ah HA! Took a few days to figure it out that is was the caffeine withdrawal that caused my headache. I remembered reading that it does that a few years before my experience and it came back to mind later. It had to be the lack of caffeine that caused my headache in Connecticut, my excruciating headache in Connecticut.

Mar. 17 2014 11:56 AM
Kristina from Brooklyn

Can you discuss any information you learned about caffeine consumption and pregnancy?
There seems to be so much contradictory evidence available.

Mar. 17 2014 11:56 AM
Bill from UWS

I've heard that a shot of espresso has less caffeine than a typical cup of brewed coffee, perhaps because the pressurized steam used to make espresso doesn't extract as much caffeine. Is this true?

Also, is there any caffeine in Decaf?

Mar. 17 2014 11:56 AM
Cheryl Payer

Coming off caffeine cold turkey solved my migraines, by allowing me to use caffeine when required to abort a coming migraine. It is as if when I drank a lot of caffeine, there was not enough room to raise the amount when needed. This method, which I heard from two friends in different parts of the country, may have originated with Dr. Andrew Weil.

Mar. 17 2014 11:54 AM
Jenny from NYC

OTC medicine with caffeine does NOTHING for migraines. They aren't close to strong enough--even the ones that claim they're for migraines. That's all marketing. They don't work at all. Many prescription medications for migraines also contain caffeine.

Most people who get migraines I know, including me, get relief from caffeine, just as the caller and her son do.

Mar. 17 2014 11:54 AM
Michael from Manhattan

Could your guest talk about the caffeine relative theobromine, which is found in chocolate?

Mar. 17 2014 11:53 AM

Hi, I've been wondering about nutritional effects of caffeine - does it block the absorption of certain nutrients? And if so, what quantities of caffeine would cause the effect, and how would you overcome it?

Mar. 17 2014 11:53 AM
tom from astoria

I know the extreme distress of giving up caffeine 100% cold turkey. But for lent this year I cut my coffee by 1/2, from two scoops (green Miracle Grow scoops) to one. Not much effect. I have depended on it for decades. As David letterman said, "If it wasn't for caffeine I'd have no personality at all."

Mar. 17 2014 11:52 AM

Great book on the topic, The Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola by Ricardo Cortes.

Mar. 17 2014 11:51 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

The worst part of my lifelong annual fast on Yom Kippur is my caffeine withdrawal headache.

I try every year to slowly begin limit my coffee intake as the holidays approach, sometimes with some success, usually with little -- I just don't really start the process early enough.

Mar. 17 2014 11:51 AM
antonio from baySIde

I have experienced funny effects; On the weekends (mostly) I get a really relaxed effect (like having a camomile tea)..But during the week before work, I mostly get a heightened, hyper/anxious effect...

Obviously this is not the coffee it's my disposition before consumption...

Mar. 17 2014 11:50 AM

I came off caffeine for a while last year. The first week not only did I have the expected headache but severe back pain - like I had been kicked! Another withdrawal symptom?

Mar. 17 2014 11:50 AM

Would be curious to learn more about the connection between caffeine and migraine treatment. As someone who suffers from Migraines, with family who does as well, caffeine is one of the only solutions that we have found to be truly effective for migraines.

Mar. 17 2014 11:49 AM
Alicia from manhattan

I'm breastfeeding and still drinking a cup of coffee or two. I try to drink it at least 2 or 3 hours before feeding my 8 month old. It's what I look forward to most during the day! What are the possible side effects of in coffee in a baby? He naps and sleeps just fine! Am I a terrible mother?

Mar. 17 2014 11:49 AM
Will Coley from Sunnyside, Queens NY

If I drink coffee in the late afternoon will it really affect my sleep? How long does it take for caffeine to leave my system? And will caffeine have less of an effect on me over the years?

Mar. 17 2014 11:48 AM
Sam from astoria

When caffeine is an added ingredient (like in sodas), where does it come from? What form is in in when it is added to the drink?

Mar. 17 2014 11:46 AM
Adam from NYC

Would be curious to hear the guest speak about the possible long-term neurological implications of regular caffeine consumption. Some studies have indicated that there's an inverse correlation between caffeine/coffee consumption and Alzheimer's incidence.

Also, what about caffeine hyper-regulation — i.e. continued unabated consumption. Does drinking coffee, over time, lower the impact that caffeine has on the system? I used to function without my first cup of coffee in the morning; no so anymore!

Mar. 17 2014 11:32 AM
Gotham M

Please comment on the evidence that regular coffee consumption lowers the risk of Type II diabetes.

Mar. 17 2014 11:09 AM

Chinese factories also produce the active ingredients in the world's vitamins and baby formula (incl. organic).

For the last 3 weeks they have additionally been processing America's "Raised in America" chicken (inlc. organic.)

Mar. 17 2014 10:00 AM

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