Coffee Addiction: Is Rehab Necessary?

By Cate Walker

If you are like us, nothing warms your body or gets you going in the morning more than a warm cup of Joe (well, perhaps except for an actual guy named Joe, but that’s a whole other story). Throw in a brutal winter that demands oh so much more than just some cute winter hats and furry boots and, well, it’s no wonder we’ve drank our weight in coffee once or twice (or one hundred times, but who’s really counting anyway)!

With a caffeine addiction that makes Charlie Sheen’s drug use seem nothing more than a mere experimental phase, we started to wonder…. Is coffee really that bad? We know it can stain our teeth (but that’s what Go Smile Touch Up Ampoules are for, right?!), but is it bad for our bodies? To find out, we called over to Sarah Conca, a Registered Dietician from VIM Fitness Spa & Salon in Cambridge, MA, for an insider’s perspective on this heavily debated drink…

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Some have us thinking we need to break up with Joe faster than our last boyfriend… true or false? Caffeine is on the FDA’s GRAS (‘generally recognized as safe’) list of food additives. It’s found in cocoa beans, coffee beans, kola nuts, tea leaves, guarana berries and yerba maté leaves. And the fact is that caffeine rich foods and drinks (like coffee, tea and chocolate) also contain healthy phytochemicals and antioxidants, which have been shown to fight disease. So, no. No breakups needed… yet…

So, what does coffee really do that has us so hooked? While that cup of coffee can make you feel like you no longer need to immediately call for a nap time (man, we wish we had that power sometimes), caffeine does not actually eliminate the need for sleep, but rather tricks the brain into feeling less tired by mimicking naturally occurring neurotransmitters. More than just helping us feel less sleepy, studies show that caffeine also improves alertness, athletic performance and even mental focus. And some studies even suggest that caffeine may reduce the risk of liver cancer and type 2 diabetes.  Sounds good to us!

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But really, how much is too much? The official answer is that 500mn of caffeine per day is too much. Way too much. But really, who judges their Venti skim lattes in milligrams? (Not I!). So, to put it in perspective, a twelve-ounce Coca-Cola Classic has 35 mg, a shot of Starbucks espresso has 75 mg, the average cup of tea has 40-80 mg, a 1.45oz Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate bar has 31 mg and Excedrin Extra Strength has 130 mg in 2 tablets. Bottom line: 3-4 cups of brewed coffee fall well within the “acceptable” range of 200-300 mg per day (unless, of course, you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, have notable sensitivities or suffer from heartburn).

Will coming off of caffeine have us wishing there were a rehab for coffee addicts? Caffeine tolerance builds quickly and withdrawal symptoms are no joke (trust us!). In fact, they can start just 12-24 hours after caffeine is last consumed. But, the good news is, if you are looking to quit, your withdrawal symptoms should stop after five days. Although, we have to say, the aforementioned risks seem paltry compared to the alternatives: exhaustion, reduced athletic performance and withdrawal symptoms. (Heartburn and anxiety… well, you’ll have to find other solutions.)

Stress management tips for everyone!