Caffeine is the one drug most people just can’t do without. For those times when you’re stressed about some looming duty or deadline, but almost too dead tired to do anything about it, it’s the most reliable tool to help you boss up and keep moving. But chances are that, after pounding down enough coffee, Red Bull, or strong black tea, most folks will start to feel jittery, tense, and all around tweaked out. They may be awake, but they may feel even more strung out and anxious than when they started out.
This is the tradeoff most of us accept in caffeine: It can jolt us up and offer somereal long-term health benefits, possibly even mitigating the side effects of chronic stress. But it also spikes the immediate production of stress hormones and raises blood pressure, precipitating or exacerbating short-term stress. The potency of this effect varies by individual; according to James O’Keefe, a cardiologist who’s studied caffeine’s effects, it hits people who don’t often consume caffeine the hardest.
But for most, four to five cups of coffee over the course of a day may make your body act like it’s under stress for a spell—even if it wasn’t already. Usually it takes more tea to feel the same thing, but anyone who’s inhaled a pot of black Assam brewed at triple strength knows, in the right context—e.g. empty stomach and jangled nerves—even one potent cuppa can send someone over the edge.
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