What is it in man's devious make-up that makes him round on the seemingly more wholesome and pleasurable aspects of his environment and suspect them of being causes of his misfortunes? Whatever it is, stimulants of all kinds (and especially coffee and caffeine) maintain a position high on the list of suspicion, despite a continuing lack of real evidence of any hazard to health.
Editorial, British Medical Journal, 1976
Is there a substance that enables you to run farther and faster, think more cogently and fluently, feel happier, more self-confident, and more relaxed, eat less, and that even acts as a powerful antioxidant? One that is also the favorite recreational drug of the twenty-first century, a pop icon? Yes, there is. It's caffeine. Throughout this book, we will see examples of the ways in which caffeine, by heightening our mental and physical capacities and enhancing our moods, enables us to realize our hidden potential and achieve our goals and in the process helps to shape and drive the progress of the modern world.
Using caffeine is more of an art than a science. Caffeine safely offers a wider range of benefits than any other drug in the pharmacopoeia. The very scope of these benefits requires us to learn something about the scientific studies that describe these effects if we are to use it strategically. And because the range of individual responses to caffeine is so great, we also need experience, self-testing, and reasoned judgment to enable us to enjoy all the benefits caffeine offers. Caffeine's benefits are very real, and yet they are complex and variable. When using caffeine, the guiding motto must be "Know thyself."
You may wonder, If caffeine has so many wonderful benefits, why haven't I heard about scientific studies being done to confirm these claims? The answer is simple. Research is being done about caffeine, but quietly. Ironically, caffeine, the most useful stimulant ever discovered, is a sleeper. As scientists in the field have repeatedly regretted, especially when talking about caffeine's potentially valuable uses in treating and preventing depression, gallstones, and Parkinson's disease and other degenerative conditions, no one has a financial incentive to promote caffeine's benefits.
Because caffeine is a generic drug, the profit on the sale of each caffeine pill or capsule is low. Therefore no company can afford to pay for the extensive testing and paperwork that would convince the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to permit it to make broader claims on caffeine's behalf. Caffeine has been consistently included by the FDA on the list of substances Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for over twenty-five years. That is the reason it can be legally added to foods and drinks. But the FDA, while acknowledging that caffeine is safe, allows caffeine to be promoted only as an "alertness aid." People who sell products that include caffeine as an ingredient aren't legally permitted to make any other claims for it. They can't tell you how caffeine makes you smarter, faster, stronger, more relaxed, and more confident. But we can. We can tell you the full story of the amazing facts about caffeine discovered over the past ten years by serious scientists from all over the world.
Unfortunately, not only do people not know about all the good things caffeine can do for them, they actually fear the harm they believe caffeine causes. Despite caffeine's astounding benefits and valuable place in society, a large number of people worry about using it and think that it is somehow to be avoided. The overwhelming majority of the people we talk to say things like, "Unfortunately, I use a lot of caffeine," or "I drink six cups of coffee a day, but I'm planning on cutting down," or "I used to drink five cups a day, but I've cut it down to two."
Such fears are fueled by poorly informed physicians and health care information and advocacy groups that have warned the public against caffeine for years and continue to do so. If you go to the Web and put the word "caffeine" into a search engine, you'll receive a flood of hits from sites advising that caffeine is dangerous because it causes hypertension and other cardiovascular problems, harmful because even small to moderate amounts of it commonly increase anxiety, and bad for athletes because it causes dehydration. When it comes to using small to moderate doses tailored to each person's needs, there is no truth in any of these statements. These are the caffeine myths, and it is part of the purpose of this book to dispel them.
You can also judge, even from the titles of recent books like Caffeine: Warning It Can Be Hazardous to Your Health, by Laura Deni, Danger: Caffeine, by Patra McSharry Sevastiades, and Caffeine Blues: Wake Up to the Hidden Dangers of America's #1 Drug, by Stephen Cherniske, that books share responsibility for worrying people unnecessarily about caffeine's effects.
Beyond the bad advice being offered to the public, there are two deeply rooted attitudes that discourage the use of caffeine: antidrug sentiment and the idea that you should feel bad about feeling good, notions that seem to be ingrained in many Americans. Drugs like heroin, cocaine, and even alcohol are looked on with disfavor, and caffeine, because it is a mood-altering drug that supports a physical dependence, is often lumped in with this unsavory crowd of dangerous substances. This creates a kind of guilt by association. And then there is the notion that anything that makes you feel good, especially if it's a "quick fix" or an "easy way out" or, even worse, if it's a drug, is immoral, a "crutch," and bound to bring about divine retribution in the form of bad physical or mental side effects. The idea is that if something is too easy, you're going to pay for it -- to your sorrow -- sooner or later.
The sneaking suspicion that you can't get something for nothing underlies a great deal of the skepticism about caffeine's benefits and worry over its possible dangers. As long ago as the beginning of the nineteenth century, Samuel Christian Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathic medicine, asserted that the extra energy provided by caffeine has to come from somewhere, and he argued that caffeine depletes us of our stores of vitality, making us energetic for a while but causing energies to plummet after we have metabolized it. There is, however, no scientific reason to accept this unfavorable interpretation of caffeine's actions. Making muscles and neurotransmitter systems work better doesn't necessarily involve draining our energy resources in any way. For example, the British Journal of Medicine reported that caffeine causes "rapid release of calcium ions in muscles, enhancing muscle contractions and making them more efficient." No problems, immediate or remote, are caused by this process. Besides, the body gets its energy by burning food, and one of the ways caffeine increases energy is by increasing our metabolism and the rate at which we burn fat. There is really no problem with that either, especially in a country where most people overeat. As long as the caffeine you're using isn't interfering with your sleep, there is no intrinsic downside to using it for extra energy. And far from upsetting our balance, the way Hahnemann thought it did, caffeine is a great restorer of the balance of our neurotransmitter systems.
rdSuch superstitious thinking fosters the pervasive belief that caffeine is harmful and should be avoided, and if it can't be avoided entirely, it should be limited as much as possible. This belief creates a constant climate of guilt about using something that gives so much to our lives and poses so little risk. But there's no reason to feel guilty about using caffeine. On the contrary, caffeine gives us a safe, almost magical tool for releasing our hidden potential and achieving our goals.
Despite all the misgivings about caffeine, its attractions are so great that over 85 percent of Americans use substantial amounts on a regular basis, so it seems inevitable that it should have had a profound effect on people individually and as a society. In his 2001 article, "Java Man: How Caffeine Created the Modern World," Malcolm Gladwell, leading social commentator and critic for the New Yorker magazine, explains that caffeine is more than simply an alertness aid or recreational adjunct. Referencing our previous book The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug, he points out that caffeine is responsible in part for the movement to sobriety in Europe. In medieval times, peasants and tradesmen drank alcohol morning, noon, and night, and chronic alcohol intoxication was the rule, not the exception. The introduction of coffee, tea, and chocolate, the "great temperance drinks," each of which brought with it the benefits of caffeine, helped to replace incapacity with efficient self-regulation of time and energy. These benefits helped bring about the industrial revolution, and they are also driving us into the future of the information-intensive, fast-moving world of cybertechnology. Gladwell claims that caffeine actually produced the modern personality. As he says, "The modern personality is, in this sense, a synthetic creation: skillfully regulated and medicated and dosed with caffeine so that we can always be awake and alert and focused when we need to be."
Is this a good thing? Gladwell thinks it is. "On a bet, no doubt, we could walk away from caffeine if we had to," he comments. "But what would be the point? The lawyers wouldn't make their billable hours. The young doctors would fall behind in their training. The physicists might still be stuck out in the New Mexico desert. We'd set the world back a month." Caffeine, he says, is the best and most useful drug because it enables us to take control of our minds, bodies, and moods and enables us to become what we want to become. Gladwell concludes, "Give a man enough coffee and he's capable of anything." And that is a pretty fair summary of what caffeine does. By releasing our hidden potential, it helps us achieve whatever it is we want to achieve.
In Chapter 1, "Getting Started with Caffeine," we explain the principles of strategic caffeine use and give you the basic information you need to understand the dynamics of caffeine's effects, controlling dosage, and issues relating to side effects and physical dependence. We reveal the remarkable Yerkes-Dodson "less is more" curve of caffeine's activity and explain why a small to moderate dose of caffeine can do you more good than a larger one. We also explode a few major caffeine myths and provide an account of caffeine sources, including one you may not have considered: caffeine pills.
It's often said that the clock is an unmerciful, omnipotent despot and that no power on earth can alter its decrees. But as we will see in Chapter 2, "Caffeine and Your Body Clock," caffeine enables us to defy the clock by working longer and maintaining our alertness, speed, and diligence. The advantage we gain can help us succeed at work and even save our lives on the highway. When Edison invented the light bulb in 1879, he caused an upheaval in human sleep patterns. This invention, which brought about both late nights and the stretching of our natural 24-hour daily rhythm into a 25-hour cycle, is one of the major factors in shaping the modern world in a way that benefits from caffeine. Most people do not realize that their body actually operates on a twenty-five- rather than a twenty-four-hour schedule, and caffeine can enable us to fit in more comfortably with the demands of the clock.
In Chapter 3, "The Jet Lag Program," we teach you the secret of overcoming jet lag by using caffeine's power to help regulate your cycles of waking and sleeping and quickly and painlessly adjust to a new time zone without missing a beat.
In Chapter 4, "Sharpening Your Mind," we explore caffeine's astounding power to make us smarter. By improving abstract reasoning, reaction time, memory, and the ability to concentrate, caffeine enables us to exceed our normal levels of intellectual attainment and accomplish more in our work and our personal lives.
Caffeine has been used for hundreds of years by many great artists and scientists to boost their creativity. In Chapter 5, "Enhancing Your Creativity," we present an overview of the contribution that caffeine has made to the production of the arts and sciences and suggest ways it may help you to become more creative in your own life.
We all have moments when we feel stuck in a bad mood. In Chapter 6, "Getting in a Good Mood," we present caffeine's mood-enhancing powers, including the ability to make you more optimistic, clearheaded, upbeat, dynamic, forceful, relaxed, and friendly.
In Chapter 7, "Relaxation and Meditation," we explain the truth behind the coffee break: how caffeine, at the same time as it increases energy levels, also increases calmness, tranquility, and serenity and may even foster an improved ability to meditate.
The Greeks knew the wisdom of aspiring to a sharp mind in a fit body. In Chapter 8, "Improving Your Athletic Performance," we review the proven improvements caffeine can make in virtually every kind of athletic activity, including endurance sports, sprinting, and strength training. In Chapter 9, "How Much to Take and When to Take It to Boost Athletic Attainment," we show you how to use caffeine strategically to get more out of your workouts and even to become a winner in competitive events.
Carrying on the theme of physical fitness, in Chapter 10, "Weight Loss," we show you how you can use caffeine to curb your appetite and burn fat, so you can lose weight faster and keep it off.
Caffeine delivers a host of immediate benefits to your mind and body. However, that is not the whole story of its amazing powers. In Chapter 11, "An Elixir of Life? Caffeine and Staying Younger," we describe the ways caffeine actually works to keep us younger longer. And in Chapter 12, "Caffeine and Good Health," we explore the many ways caffeine can contribute to our health and help us fight disease, and we also fully consider the few caveats that attend its use.
The scientific and cultural sources of our information are extensively noted at the end of the book, where you will find references to many of the most important journal articles and books we consulted.
As you read this book, consider that you are getting to know an old friend better -- an old friend who, it turns out, can do a great deal to help you lead a happier, healthier, more productive life.
Copyright © 2002 by Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer