Caffeine – Nursing Research (Chapter 1 of 5)

Chapter 1



Caffeine is among the most widely used drugs because of its ubiquitous occurrence in commonly consumed beverages such as coffee, tea and cola. Many drugs contain caffeine and are readily accessible to the public in the form of OTC stimulants and combination analgesics. Clearly caffeine is an important drug-food substance in our society which deserves attention.

To begin to have a new consciousness about caffeine so that we can become aware of how this drug can affect our physiology and psychology is a problem. The reasons for this are certainly complicated, but we can start by considering a factor dominating all of our lives, our habits. When we become aware of and take responsibility to change habits, we are taking a first step in the process of awakening. The result must not be only an improvement in the quality of our lives but the world itself will be changed for the better.

The use and abuse of caffeine is a major public “habit’ and may be as important a factor as heredity and environment in the etiology of physiological and psychological disorders. To recognize this, we must know that we are creatures of habit. Most people are caffeine consumers because from birth this food-drug is set before us, if not offered directly, along with orange juice, cereal, dessert and cigarettes.

Caffeine is a potent central nervous system stimulant and much of its “psychological” activity may be related to this action of the drug. Its effects on the nervous system are obviously adverse at high doses. it may not be obvious that at lower doses when used in moderation, it may have beneficial effects. For example, its possible therapeutic use in hyperkinetic children certainly would seem advantageous when compared to the current treatment with more powerful stimulants which have concomitant adverse reactions. Also, with the intense day to day pressures imposed on and accepted by many of us, is there any harm in “relaxing” with a hot cup of coffee? On the other hand, caffeine is a drug which is subject to abuse. The fact that it is a drug with a potentially powerful physiological effect escapes most of us who think of coffee as a relatively harmless beverage. Recently published studies and reports of personal observations have shown without doubt that caffeine abuse (caffeinism) may result in a syndrome which resembles and may be confused or confounded with true psychotic states. This may lead to misdiagnosis and mistreatment. A question arises from the varied reports of caffeine consumption in psychiatric populations: Does caffeine stimulate psychosis or does psychosis stimulate caffeine consumption?

These are not trivial findings because of the ready availability of caffeine and the epidemic of psychological problems which we are experiencing in this era. This study reviews some of the knowledge of caffeine’s effects with the hope that we will all be more educated and more careful in the use of this commonly ingested drug.

Theoretical Framework

The respondents in this study are the thirty (30) 3rd year Nursing students of Perpetual Help College of Manila. Their age ranges from 18-25 years old, 15 are male and the other half are female. The procedure of this study is to know the common habits & attitudes of the profile in terms of their practice in drinking such beverages. The physiological and psychological effects of caffeine in the profile are tested. The variables to be considered in this study are the following: body mass index (BMI), 24-hour diet recall, vices other than caffeine intake, rest and sleep pattern, elimination pattern and environment.
The following are theories regarding caffeine which can be a guide in answering the question on what are the physiological and psychological effects of caffeine in the human system.

The prevailing theory of why caffeine increases alertness took shape only in the early 1970s. The theory holds that caffeine interferes with the depressant effects of adenosine, which is one of the chemicals that the body makes to control neural activity Adenosine triggers a series of slowing effects: it depresses mood and alertness, lowers the need to urinate and slows gastric secretion and respiration. After it is released by nerve endings in the brain, adenosine must reach receptors on the surface of certain brain cells in order to work.     Caffeine, the theory has it, acts as an adenosine impostor. Molecules of caffeine counterfeit molecules of adenosine, locking into the adenosine receptors on brain cells. They fool the body into thinking that adenosine is circulating, but they produce no depressive effect of their own.

Caffeine speeds you up, then, by not slowing you down. Its effects are the opposite of what adenosine does: it makes you feel brighter and more alert, increases gastric secretion, makes you urinate more and stimulates respiration.
Proponents of caffeine speak of its ability to increase vigilance and heighten the ability to perform various tasks. Its effects are most pronounced, however, when compared with performance levels that are low because of fatigue, boredom or caffeine abstinence. Too, its effects seem to vary by personality type. For example, caffeine appears to help extroverts keep performing vigilance tasks better than introverts, who can evidently plow through such tasks unassisted.
Despite the generations of writers who have thought that coffee helped them think more clearly, caffeine seems only to increase intellectual speed, not intellectual power. Subjects in experiments do things like read and fill out crossword puzzles faster-but not, unfortunately, more accurately.
Caffeine quickens reaction time and can enhance both hand-eye coordination and the capacity of muscles to work. This boost to overall endurance has led to its use by cyclists and runners. But caffeine also has a diuretic effect, increasing frequency of urination. Caffeinated drinks are thus dehydrating, good for neither athletes nor flyers: dehydration is one of the worst problems of air travel and a prime cause of jet-lag.

Caffeine speeds up the metabolism and makes you burn calories faster, although not so much faster that it will help you lose weight. Its inclusion in over-the-counter diet pills in place of prescription-only amphetamines (“speed”) seems to be largely ineffective. Amphetamines, which diminish appetite, work differently than caffeine does on the brain.

This general quickening does not mean that coffee can sober you up – either black or with milk. Your motor functions will be just as impaired by alcohol as they were minutes before you downed that cup of coffee, and even if you feel more awake, you’re just as dangerous as a driver. Similarly, caffeine does not counteract the effects of Phenobarbital and other barbiturates. It does, however, help reverse the impairment of cognitive activity caused by benzodiazepines, the compounds that are the basis of Valium and many other tranquilizers. This reversal affects how you think as opposed to how fast you react. If you are taking a muscle relaxant or tranquilizer that you think might be one of these compounds, ask your doctors; he or she will probably advise you not to defeat the effects of the drug by drinking coffee.

What Do You Think?

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