What is caffeine?
These days, you’ve probably seen nootropics in the headlines of the paper, on television and blogs and websites as well. Regardless of where you’re getting your information from, the claims are all similar: Nootropics can provide you with a powerful, legal, cognitive edge. Whether you’re looking for an extra boost of productivity at work or in your personal life, there’s undoubtedly a nootropic that promises that it’s a perfect match for your needs in lifestyle. But, with all the noise out there, it can be difficult to know where you should get started. Fortunately, there’s an easily accessible, safe and effective substance that has some nootropic properties that you can try today. In fact, you may have already tried it today. Shoot, if you’re like me, you’ve already tried an entire pot of it today. Of course, the substance I’m talking about is caffeine, and today we’re going to take a closer look at the nootropic benefits it possesses.
While caffeine has some nootropic properties, it’s a stimulant. But is caffeine a nootropic, as well? The answer is a bit more complicated. But, in short, caffeine does possess many nootropic properties.
Caffeine is found naturally from a few different sources including tea, coffee, cacao plants. It’s been used for thousands of years to provide users with an added level of alertness and focus. In fact, the first recorded use of caffeine dates back nearly 5,000 years.
Once caffeine is ingested and travels through the liver, it’s released into the bloodstream where it’s various compounds can go to work. While caffeine effects several different areas of the body, its primary effect is on the brain.
Once caffeine reaches the brain, it’s primary job is to block the neurotransmitter adenosine, which is responsible for feelings of tiredness and lethargy.
Some studies have suggested that caffeine also has additional effects on the brain, such as the ability to increase dopamine and norepinephrine production.
What are the Advantages/Benefits of Caffeine and How Strong are the Effects?
Caffeine is one of the most heavily researched substances available. While there are many supposed benefits of caffeine intake, many of these benefits haven’t been ultimately proven. So, we’ll leave that speculation for another day. Below is a list of benefits of caffeine supplementation that have been substantiated by several research studies.
- Improves mood, cognitive function, and performance 1
- Boosts Metabolic rate2
- Coffee contains some necessary nutrients and vitamins
- Lowers your risk for cirrhosis of the liver
- Reduces the risk of certain types of cancer3
- Coffee is packed with antioxidants
In addition to these benefits, there are a number of potential benefits which haven’t been substantiated yet. Time will tell if caffeine consumption can help fight against things like heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, type II diabetes and more. For now, all we know is that in preliminary studies, caffeine may have an inverse relationship with these diseases, and it may be able to protect against them.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Unfortunately, caffeine use isn’t without its side effects. While these effects are a non-issue for most people who use caffeine, a small percentage of people are more sensitive to the drug.
Keep in mind that most of the side effects associated with caffeine are mostly associated with caffeine overdoses. If you’re using caffeine responsibly, you’ll likely avoid some, or maybe even all of the side effects we’re going to discuss. But, if your caffeine consumption is through the roof (i.e., 1000mg or more per day) you’re likely to run into at least some of these side effects.
Caffeine in high doses can lead to increased feelings of stress, nervousness, anxiety, and jitters. Since caffeine promotes wakefulness, it also isn’t uncommon for users to experience difficulty sleeping if they’ve ingested too much caffeine, or if they’ve had caffeine too close to bedtime. There’s also the issue of rebound fatigue once the caffeine has left the system for some users.
Caffeine consumption can also cause your heart to beat rapidly, while also increasing your blood pressure.
For coffee drinkers, the diuretic effect of coffee can lead to urinating more often, and it can also lead to loose stools as well.
Of course, there’s also the issue of addiction as well. While caffeine isn’t highly addictive, it can be habit forming, especially for those who consume lots of coffee or tea each day. Withdrawal symptoms can include headaches, irritability, difficulty concentrating and sleepiness.
Again, keep in mind that when used responsibly, the benefits greatly outweigh the side effects of caffeine use. But, you need to be mindful of these side effects, especially if you consume high amounts of caffeine. At the same time, since caffeine affects each person differently, even moderate caffeine use may result in the onset of some or all of these symptoms.
If you’re experiencing some or all of the side effects above, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate your caffeine consumption. For many heavier caffeine users, it can be difficult to keep track of the amount of caffeine you’re ingesting. If that’s the case with you, using a caffeine calculator can be an easy way of figuring out just how much caffeine you’re ingesting daily, so you have an idea of how much you need to cut back.
What’s the Best Way to Use Caffeine?
This is going to vary depending on personal preference since there’s no wrong or right way to use caffeine. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, and chocolate and it’s often added to things like soda or energy drinks. In addition to getting caffeine from food or beverages, you can also purchase caffeine tablets or caffeine powder in the form of caffeine anhydrous in order to get your fix.
While there’s no wrong way to take caffeine, there are some things you can do to maximize the effectiveness of caffeine while minimizing the crash that’s often associated with caffeine.
First, try and consume caffeinated beverages slowly. Unless you’re taking caffeine in pill form, you can control how much caffeine is entering your body and how quickly it enters. This can help prevent you from crashing later on.
Another helpful tip is to avoid sugary drinks that contain caffeine whenever possible since the sugar in these drinks can further contribute to a crash.
Also, try to avoid drinking too much caffeine on an empty stomach. Caffeine leads to an increase in hydrochloric acid inside the digestive system. The primary purpose of hydrochloric acid is to help you digest meals. So, if your body is producing this acid without any food to digest, it can lead to issues like heartburn, and it can also negatively affect your stomach lining.
Effective and Typical Doses
While every person is different, there are some general rules when it comes to effective caffeine doses.
Depending on the effect you desire, you should tailor your dosage to encourage that effect. If you’re looking for a nootropic edge or stimulating your metabolism, a dose of 200-300mg is common. There’s some evidence that suggests that in extremely high doses (think 500mg and above) an acute increase in strength is realized. For rookie caffeine users, it’s best to start with a dose of around 100mg and increase from there if you’re experiencing positive results initially.
When it comes to clinical research, most scientists typically employ a dose of 4-6mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. For example, a test subject weighing 185lbs (84kg) would usually take a dose of around 420mg of caffeine for research purposes.
Again, keep in mind that every person is different, and if you’re unsure how caffeine affects you, it’s best to start small and ramp up from there.
Prerequisites To Using Caffeine
While nearly everyone can take caffeine, some people should avoid it entirely. Caffeine can interact negatively with certain prescription medications, children, and pregnant women.
In particular, anyone taking the drug Fluvoxamine or an aromatase inhibitor, propranolol or other beta blockers should steer clear of caffeine. Caffeine should also not be taken by anyone taking additional stimulants, or those with high blood pressure or cardiovascular issues.
While more research is required regarding pregnancy and caffeine (source), we do know that when a pregnant woman ingests caffeine, the caffeine is also passed on to the baby. While most people have no problem quickly processing caffeine out of the body, it’s much more difficult for a baby to process caffeine, and it stays in their bodies for a more extended period. As a result, pregnant women are encouraged to limit their caffeine to 200mg per day or less.
As for children, the research is a bit more cut and dry. While many children consume caffeine every day thanks to things like soda and energy drinks, a child’s caffeine intake should be closely monitored and avoided wherever possible.
All of the same side effects that exist for adults, such as poor sleep quality, high blood pressure, anxiety and jitteriness and increased heart rate are just as present in children. In fact, often these side effects are amplified. While the FDA doesn’t have any guidelines regarding caffeine consumption by children, the Canadian government recommends children’s caffeine consumption be limited to a maximum of 45mg per day, which is about the equivalent of one can of soda.
While caffeine is preferred due to its effectiveness and the ease of access people have to caffeine, it may not be for everyone. That said, you may respond poorly to caffeine, but are still interested in the mental boost that caffeine provides for others. Fortunately, there are several alternatives you may wish to consider that have a similar effect to caffeine, potentially without any side effects.
L-Tyrosine is a popular alternative to caffeine that’s typically taken in 50-100mg doses. While the effects aren’t as profound as caffeine, it does provide a nice and even boost of energy.
Ginseng is a popular supplement that helps the body adapt to stress, and it’s shown the ability to provide a small boost of energy.
Ginkgo Biloba is a common herbal nootropic agent that’s believed to increase cognition, focus and short-term memory. It’s often stacked with ginseng for a more potent effect.
Alpha Lipoic Acid & Acetyl-L-Carnitine are often used in place of caffeine thanks to the relatively robust energy boost they can provide. While they’re also available separately, when the two are combined it seems to give a much more efficient boost.
Stacking – What Herbs or Supplements to Use With Caffeine
Stacking is a popular way to increase the benefit you’ll receive from a single substance by supplementing it with another. There are several supplements or herbs that caffeine seems to stack well with.
Caffeine and L-Theanine
Caffeine and L-Theanine is an extremely popular stack that typically involves a 2-1 ratio of L-Theanine to caffeine. L-Theanine provides a similar set of benefits to caffeine, but they’re usually less noticeable and have fewer side effects. Together, these two substances possess a synergistic effect that helps to amplify and refine the effects of both substances which provides many benefits. Most notably, it leads to an increase in cognition, mental energy and focus.
Caffeine and L-Theanine can also be found together naturally in green tea. However, the balance is off in green tea, with roughly twice as much caffeine as L-Theanine. Here’s a recipe you can use at home to create a delicious green tea latte with a more proper balance of L-Theanine to caffeine.
- 2 tsp matcha green tea powder
- 100mg L-Theanine powder
- 1tsp sugar or sugar substitute
- ¼ cup hot water
- ¾ cup warm milk
Combine all the ingredients except the milk and stir vigorously to dissolve the sugar and matcha powder. Then, add the milk and enjoy!
The ECA stack was once the most popular caffeine stack being used and combined aspirin with caffeine and ephedrine. This was prized for its powerful weight loss benefits. However, it’s fallen out of popularity since ephedrine was made illegal in the United States.
Overall, caffeine is a powerful and highly useful substance that provides most people with several benefits, including a nootropic-like boost.
It’s particularly useful for anyone looking to get a cognitive edge at work or in their personal life, and it can be used by most people without any significant side effects. Considering the benefits of caffeine, like increased energy, mental focus, increased metabolic rate and the number of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants it contains, there are plenty of reasons to consider using caffeine.
That said, it’s still a drug. It’s still an addictive substance. Therefore, caffeine should be taken responsibly, and avoided by children as well as pregnant women.