Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Caffeine Tolerance

On a recent podcast episode of Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, the hosts have an interesting conversation about caffeine. Apparently, caffeine does diminish in its effects as tolerance in the body builds, but the details are illuminating. This is especially important for those of us who partake daily. I drink both coffee and tea just about every day. Fortunately only a cup or two total, usually one or the other.

According to Dr. Steven Novella on the aforementioned podcast, caffeine is an adenosine inhibitor. Of course, I don't pretend to know what that means, but it seems that adenosine keeps the brain calm, so when it is inhibited by caffeine, the brain is more active, which is not quite the same thing as being stimulated, but the effect is the same. However, this effect diminishes over time, because the body simply produces more adenosine when the current amount proves inadequate. Then more caffeine is needed to inhibit the additional adenosine, then more adenosine is produced, and so on and so on. Thus tolerance for caffeine builds in the body, and apparently pretty quickly. Apparently after less than two weeks, users (which includes me) are simply drinking caffeine to return to normal.

Basically it is the classic definition of drug tolerance and addiction, and apparently it is an addiction shared by quite a few people. According to the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 80% of adults consume the caffeine equivalent of at least one cup of coffee a day. That's a lot of people just trying to get back to normal.

After finding out all this out I thought I might want to reset my caffeine tolerance, to go back to zero, and only use caffeine on those occasions when I actually need heightened mental acuity. And I am in the middle of this effort, but I confess I failed today - broke down and had a cup of tea. How long it takes to reset all this neural receptor business is somewhat unknown - it depends how long one has been using and how much. But I think in my case about 5 days should do it. We will see. If I fail, well, I will have a lot of company.


Alicia Michele Benjamin said...

I'm a coffee fiend and it was hard for me to even read this. I usually avoid such articles because I know I'm not ready to give it up! I have gone "cold turkey" a few times and have each time, gradually found my way back to a strong cup of Joe.... ah well.....

PatricktheRogue said...

Well, Alicia, most of the research I have seen on it show very little long term ill efects from mild usage. I was just thinking of "resetting" my tolerance level so that I could use caffeine as a mental boost when I need it.

Alicia Michele Benjamin said...

Oh! Well then, I guess I can go on as usual and sip my java! :-)