Executive drug addicts

What is your favourite performance enhancing drug?

Whether you work at home or in a sky-high office block in the city, chances are your answer was caffeine.

Caffeine is the world’s most popular psychoactive drug and has similar pharmacological effects on the body as many illegal substances we associate with doing harm.

“When I go to the gym I don’t perspire, I actually percolate,” said my client Bob  when I asked him how his fitness program was going. Two months earlier Bob had approached me after I spoke at a real estate conference and asked if I could help him to get healthy again. “I drink between 25 to 30 cups of coffee a day.” he admitted.

Yes, caffeine in its many guises is a drug and Bob is what I call an executive drug addict. Are you? To determine if you suffer from caffeine addiction, ask yourself the following questions.

1. Do you have to drink coffee to kick-start every day?

2. Do you regularly rely on coffee/caffeinated drinks to boost energy throughout the day?

3. When you miss your daily caffeine intake, do you develop a headache?

4. Do you get anxiety, mood swings and feel irritable when you drink too much or too little caffeine?

5. Do you drink more than 300mg (two to three cups) of coffee a day?

6. Do all the employees at your local coffee shop know your name and everything about you?

If you answered YES to three or more of the above questions, it’s a safe bet that you’re a caffeine addict.

Positives of caffeine

Now before you fire up and feel the urge to throw your freshly brewed cappuccino or piccolo in my face – let me present both sides of the caffeine equation.

A 2010 study by the Mayo Clinic suggests that caffeine in moderation does have some positive effects and can protect against Parkinson disease, Type 2 diabetes and liver cancer. And 2011 research presented in The Journal of Physical Chemistry highlights that caffeine is one of the richest sources of healthful antioxidants that may help to protect from Alzheimers.

But our ‘caffeine culture’ is increasingly being used as the glue to build relationships and meeting up for a coffee has become part of the corporate mantra. More and more people catch up for a coffee in place of going to the pub for a few schooners, and lycra-clad cyclists spend hours talking about how good they could have been over a latte or two following the morning ride.

For most people caffeine in moderation is fine, and moderation is generally accepted as less than 300mg a day. (Refer to the chart at the end to work out how much caffeine you consume per day).

What does caffeine really do?

When we are awake neurons in the brain produce adenosine, a by-product of the cells' chemical activities. The build-up of adenosine in the brain is one of the major factors that leads to our perception of feeling tired.

This feeling is counteracted by the use of caffeine, which blocks the actions of adenosine in the brain and keeps us alert. So caffeine doesn’t really pep us up, it reduces the amount of adenosine which has the result of making us feel less tired.

The downside of caffeine

'Caffeinism' is a state of chronic toxicity resulting from excess caffeine consumption. Caffeinism usually combines physical addiction with a wide range of debilitating effects-most notably anxiety, irritability, mood swings, sleep disturbance, depression and fatigue.

If your total caffeine intake is 300 to 600 mg per day, you are undoubtedly experiencing some degree of mental and physical addiction to caffeine.

Research shows an almost 200 per cent increase of risk for ulcers and a disruption of sleep patterns begin at this level, and certain heart disease risk factors may also be increased.

If your total intake is 600 to 900 mg per day – sorry to be blunt, but you definitely fall into the category of ‘executive drug addict’. Mood and energy levels are severely affected and research suggests your risk of heart attack may be twice that of non-caffeine users.

At 900 mg or more per day, all heart disease risk factors are significantly increased, as are the risks for stroke, psychological disorders and gastrointestinal disease. You may need medical help to kick the habit.

Moderation is key

Like most things in life, caffeine in moderation is absolutely fine. Try the following tips to help you kick the caffeine rollercoaster.

Stick to 300 mg a day

Follow the caffeine consumption guidelines and aim to stick below 300mg a day.

Juice to start: Avoid having caffeine on an empty stomach first thing of a morning. get into the habit of drinking a fresh juice (at the very least a glass of water) before your first caffeine hit of the day.

Tea with flowers after 3pm: Considering caffeine has a half-life of between 5 to 7 hours, reduce intake before bedtime. Try supplementing caffeine for herbal or peppermint tea from 3pm onwards.

Energy drinks don’t give you wings: Don’t be fooled by the powerful marketing – energy drinks are not sports drinks and they are not designed to keep up hydration levels when you are active.

Caffeine Addicts: Reduce your intake gradually and avoid going cold turkey. If you drink more than 10 cups of coffee a day consider getting medical support to support your reduction in caffeine consumption.

How much caffeine are you drinking?

•Instant coffee 60-100 mg per cup, depending on how much you use.
•Fresh coffee 80-350 mg per cup, depending on the type and strength of the beans (Robusta beans contain more caffeine than the Arabica variety).
•Decaffeinated coffee two to four mg per cup. Amounts are usually marked on the packet.
•Tea has eight to 50 mg per cup, depending on how long it is brewed for. Green tea comes in around 8 mg of caffeine, while regular black tea is more likely to hit the 40+ mg mark.
•Cola drinks have 35 mg per 250 ml serve (one cup).
•Cocoa and hot chocolate have 10- 70 mg per cup, depending on strength of the brew and the other chemicals in the product.
•Chocolate bars have 20-60 mg per 200 g bar.

Do you think there is there a place for coffee in the workplace or does it all just add to our stress levels?