Why Lifting Weights Can Be So Potent for Aging Well

Why Lifting Weights Can Be So Potent for Aging Well

Weight training by older people may build not only strength and muscle mass but also motivation and confidence, potentially spurring them to continue exercising, according to an interesting new study of the emotional impacts of lifting weights.

The findings intimate that people worried that they might be too old or inept to start resistance training should perhaps try it, to see how their bodies and minds respond.

We already have plenty of evidence, of course, that weight training can help us to age well. By our early 40s, most of us are losing muscle mass, at a rate of about 5 percent a decade, with the decline often precipitating a long slide toward frailty and dependence.

But older people who lift weights can slow or reverse that descent, studies show. In multiple experiments, older people who start to lift weights typically gain muscle mass and strength, as well as better mobilitymental sharpness and metabolic health.

But lifting helps only those who try it, and statistics indicate that barely 17 percent of older Americans regularly lift weights.

So, as part of a larger study of weight training and the elderly, scientists at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland recently decided to see if they could discover how weight training changes the minds as well as the musculature of people who had not done it before.

To start, they turned to 81 older men and women who were part of their health database and who had agreed to begin resistance training. These volunteers were all between the ages of 65 and 75 and, like many Finns, healthy and physically active. But they did not lift weights.

For the full study, they began a twice-weekly program of supervised, full-body resistance training at the university to familiarize participants with proper technique and build a base of strength.

After three months, the group was randomly assigned to continue training once, twice or three times a week, while a separate, untrained group served as controls. Periodically, the researchers checked the volunteers’ strength, fitness and metabolic health, and also their attitudes about the workouts, including whether they found them daunting or inviting and how difficult it was for the volunteers to find the time and resolve to show up.

This routine lasted for six months, by which time the people lifting weights had almost all gained strength and improved various markers of their health, even if they had lifted only once a week.

But then, after the months of supervised lifting, the exercisers abruptly were on their own. The researchers explained that they could no longer have access to the university facilities and provided them with information about low-cost, suitable gyms in the area. But any subsequent training would be at their own volition.

The researchers waited six months and then contacted the volunteers to see who was still lifting and how often. They repeated those interviews after an additional six months.

They found, to their surprise, that a year after the formal study had ended, almost half of the volunteers still were lifting weights at least once a week.

“We had estimated a rate of 30 percent,” says Tiia Kekalainen, a project researcher at the University of Jyvaskyla who led the psychological study with the senior author, Simon Walker, and others.

Also surprising, the researchers discovered little direct correlation between muscle and motivation. The people who had gained the most strength or muscle mass during the study were not necessarily those most likely to stick to the training.

Instead, it was those who had come to feel most competent in the gym. If someone’s self-efficacy, which is a measure of confidence, had risen substantially during the study, he or she usually kept lifting.

In effect, Ms. Kekalainen says, people who discovered that they enjoyed and felt capable of completing a weight-training session subsequently sought out and joined a new gym and showed up for workouts, despite no longer receiving nudges from the researchers or encouragement and companionship from their fellow volunteers.

“They found out that resistance training is their cup of tea,” Ms. Kekalainen says.

Most of them also told the researchers that weight training had provided them with renewed confidence in their physical abilities beyond the gym.

“They could do things that they thought they could not do before,” she says.

Of course, about half of the volunteers had told her and the other researchers that “they preferred other types of exercise,” Ms. Kekalainen says, and those men and women, for the most part, no longer lifted weights.

Ms. Kekalainen and her colleagues hope in future studies to explore the issues of what drew some people to the lifting and left others uninspired, and how weight-training routines might be structured to appeal to the skeptical.

For now, people interested in starting to lift weights should look for classes or trainers specializing in beginners and learn to lift safely.

But the overarching lesson of the study, she says, is that to discover how you feel about weight training, you need to weight train.

This article was originally published in The New York Times. Read the original article.

How healthy is a gluten-free diet?

How healthy is a gluten-free diet?

Gluten free diets have become a trend, and many people question whether they make a significant difference in health; nutrition experts say they are neither good nor bad.

Gluten is a general classification for a group of proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and oats, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.Allergies to gluten are common, with about one in 100 people being affected, but others choose to voluntarily give up gluten for health reasons.

“I think the trend really started in the early to mid 2000s, and since then, going gluten free has been attributed to everything from weight loss to curing disease, whether or not there is actual research to back up these claims,” Jennifer Yoder-Clevidence, a nutrition lecturer at Ohio University, said.

Fad diets are always being advertised, and they eventually fade away. Yoder-Clevidence said fad diets tend to resurface in the future as a “new” diet. She gave the example of the Atkins diet, which was a heavy trend in the late ’90s through the early 2000s, dissipated for a period of time, and reappeared as the paleo and ketogenic diets.

Yoder-Clevidence said if someone does not have Celiac disease, which requires them to restrict gluten, then gluten is neither bad nor good in a diet.

“People who have true Celiac disease do not have a gluten allergy, rather they have an autoimmune disease where they are unable to process gluten,” Yoder-Clevidence said. “In individuals with Celiac disease, gluten in the diet can do great damage to the lining of their intestine, which can lead to severe malnutrition among other complications.”

It is difficult for people with Celiac disease to find gluten-free foods. However, Yoder-Clevidence said due to the rise of consumer demand, she believes gluten-free foods are rapidly becoming more accessible.

“I would say the bigger challenge for people with Celiac disease is cross-contamination, and hidden sources of gluten even in products like lotion, toothpaste, shampoo and more items of that nature,” Yoder-Clevidence said.

Yoder-Clevidence said some products labeled as gluten-free have the same amount of calories, added fats and sugars as products containing gluten.

“It seems that gluten-free has almost become synonymous with ‘healthy’, however consumers still need to read labels and compare products,” Yoder-Clevidence said. “Unless someone has been diagnosed with Celiac disease, then eliminating gluten from the diet is not going to have additional health benefits.”

Olivia Ries, a senior studying psychology, said that as a person with Celiac disease, it is not difficult to find gluten-free alternatives.

“Especially in bigger cities, I’m able to find alternatives on almost every restaurant’s menu,” Ries said, “But it can be very difficult in Athens.”

Celiac disease is genetic, and Ries said her mom has it as well. However, Ries did not get diagnosed until she was in grade school.

“Realizing I had the disease was a progression,” Ries said. “I started getting dizzy, and couldn’t figure out what was happening with me.”

Ries said she knew something was wrong when she started experiencing “brain fog,” in which she was unable to remember conversations she recently had. She said the situation made her realize how correlated food ingestion and brain capacity are.

“I would study all night for tests and fail the tests because I just couldn’t remember anything,” Ries said.

Within a week of eating gluten-free, Ries said her body was feeling so much better.

Ries said she does not like making a big deal out of not eating gluten at restaurants. She is aware that some people eat gluten-free just so they can follow diets. She said sometimes restaurant workers assume she is one of the diet followers and that her request is not an emergency; she said she can tell by their faces that they are annoyed.

“I don’t do it just because I want to,” Ries said. “I always apologize profusely even though I know I don’t need to.”

Ries said even eating chicken that was cooked on a grill used to previously cook breaded chicken on can get her sick.

Ries said her friends are more defensive than she is when they go out to eat, making sure the waiters know her request is for a serious disease and not a diet.

Donkey Coffee and Espresso, 17 W. Washington St., sells gluten-free cookies. Donkey also sells vegan options.

Michael McBride, a barista at Donkey Coffee and Espresso, said the business aims to accommodate all customers’ needs.

“Some don’t mind what’s in the food, some do,” McBride said. “We try to reach all needs of our customers.”

What is an elimination diet and should I do it?

What is an elimination diet and should I do it?

The foods we eat greatly determine the status of our health. If you’re looking to finally find relief from negative health symptoms and remove the foods that are causing those issues, an elimination diet may be right for you.

What is an elimination diet?

Essentially, an elimination diet consists of two parts – elimination of a majority of trigger foods, and a careful reintroduction to those same foods after your body has adjusted to less stress and inflammation. As you add individual foods back into your diet, you’ll take notice of any new symptoms, and adjust accordingly.

During the reintroduction phase, Dr. Adrienne Carmack, Co-Medical Director of IHM, recommends only adding one food type back at a time, and that it should be in its purest form. Some foods may consist of more than one type of allergen you have eliminated. She gives the example of a chocolate bar that contains cacao, sugar, and milk. In this case, opt for using cacao powder instead of the whole bar.

Dr. Carmack says that a common cause of many health issues is food sensitivities, which can take form as a true allergy or as another form of intolerance (like lactose intolerance). Our elimination diets focus on removing both food allergies and food sensitivities that are likely to cause allergic reactions and sensitivity reactions.

Benefits of an Elimination Diet

There are many benefits to trying an elimination diet, but the best benefit is that it helps you discover the source of negative health symptoms.

Dr. Mark Hyman, chairman of The Institute for Functional Medicine, sheds light on symptoms of food sensitivities: “The key to determining food sensitivities (as opposed to food allergies) is that the food sensitivity might have a slow response or reaction. We’re talking about symptoms like bloating, brain fog, poor sleep, poor digestion, skin rashes – these symptoms can all be caused by food sensitivities.”

This elimination – and slow reintroduction – process greatly guides your investigation of what exactly is causing your symptoms.

Additionally, those who try Elimination Diets frequently report that not only do they determine food sensitivities, but also experience “increased energy, mental alertness, a decrease in muscle or joint pain, and a general sense of improved well-being.”

Why should I try an elimination diet?

If you have experienced consistent health symptoms, yet feel uncertain of their source, then an elimination diet may be the right choice for you! By eliminating reactive foods from your system, you will be able to more closely pay attention to when something feels off in your body.

No Gym Can Match Her Hula Hoop

No Gym Can Match Her Hula Hoop

Marah Kabaservice jokes that she’s a closet exerciser. You won’t find the 50-year-old nurse practitioner at the gym or in spin class. She finds more motivation hula hooping and doing jumping jacks in the privacy of her home in Rutledge, Tenn., a town near Knoxville.

As an unathletic teen, Ms. Kabaservice was turned off from fitness by the forced activities of high school gym class. She flailed through dodgeball, softball, even warm-ups. “I nearly flunked P.E. because I couldn’t run four laps around the track,” she says. “By my 20s, I was a complete slug, smoking a pack of cloves a day.”

Knowing she had to make a change, she tried running again. Away from the judgment of peers, she found she actually enjoyed exercise. “When I was by myself, I could focus on myself,” she says. “My workouts became my time to zone out and think through my problems.”

Ms. Kabaservice says her home exercise routine has helped her cope with the stress of caring for her aging father.
Ms. Kabaservice says her home exercise routine has helped her cope with the stress of caring for her aging father. PHOTO: JESSICA TEZAK FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

As she logged more miles, Ms. Kabaservice quit smoking and took up new workouts, like jump roping and her current passion, hula hooping. She’s gone from an exercise-hater to a never-miss-a-day obsessive. Exercise, she says, has been her saving grace the past six years as she’s cared for her aging father, who suffers from a debilitating neurological disease. At least one week a month, she flies to her parents’ home in Melbourne, Fla., to give her mother some relief from caregiving duties. Last year alone, she says she flew 64,000 miles back and forth.

“As I worry more about my parents, I’ve gradually upped the intensity and duration of my workouts at home, because it helps with my anxiety,” she says. “The exercise also helps to keep me in good physical shape so that I can help my bedridden dad with basic activities such as sitting up on the edge of the bed.”

Whenever she’s feeling stressed, she picks up her hula hoop. “It’s a healthy way for me to work out my emotions,” she says.

The Workout

Ms. Kabaservice works out six days a week at 5:30 a.m. Her home routine takes around 85 minutes. She spends about 50 minutes of that time hula hooping. She doesn’t just use the hoop around her waist—she also circles it around her glutes and upper thighs and mixes up the speed.

“I try to make it a whole-body workout and move my arms in a circular motion at the same time,” she says. Between bouts of hula hooping, she will do 10 minutes of jumping jacks and 10 minutes of elbow-to-knee touches with 2-pound dumbbells.

She stopped running the country roads near her home due to stray dogs. She now walks the perimeter of her 12-acre property for an hour, about six laps, once a week. She recently took up hiking in nearby Panther Creek State Park.

When in Florida, she uses an old exercise bike in her parents’ home, walks around their neighborhood and spends 30 minutes a day helping her father do a series of range-of-motion exercises. “Moving my dad into his recliner is a workout in itself,” she says. “I find I burn more calories in Florida and I’m not even hooping.”

Ms. Kabaservice says caring for her father is both physically and emotionally taxing. Simple acts, like helping get him in and out of bed, require her to keep up her strength.
Ms. Kabaservice says caring for her father is both physically and emotionally taxing. Simple acts, like helping get him in and out of bed, require her to keep up her strength.PHOTO: JESSICA TEZAK FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The Diet

Ms. Kabaservice says the stress of caring for her father, combined with the physical strength required to help him around the house, often leaves her ravenous. She spent all of December at her parents’ home and says she ate an entire box of Cheerios each day on top of her usual meals just to be able to maintain her weight.

Normally, she averages 2,800 calories a day. “I’m a vegan in a land of carnivores,” she jokes. She starts the day with oatmeal topped with pecans and almond milk. When working, she rarely has time for lunch. She instead snacks throughout the day on olives, nuts and blueberries. Dinner is often a large salad topped with avocado, legumes and nuts. Her vices are, depending on the time of day, Hawaiian Punch or bourbon.

The Gear & Cost

“The beauty of working out at home is that I don’t have to invest in trendy exercise garb,” she says. “I wear threadbare shirts and ratty shorts.” She bought her weighted hula hoop for $43. She buys Saucony sneakers.

Ms. Kabaservice walks the perimeter of her 12-acre property for an hour, or about six laps, three days a week.
Ms. Kabaservice walks the perimeter of her 12-acre property for an hour, or about six laps, three days a week. PHOTO: JESSICA TEZAK FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The Scoop on Hoops

If you want a full-body workout, a hula hoop might not be the first piece of equipment you grab. But 30 minutes of hooping is comparable with power yoga, boot camp, cardio kickboxing and other group fitness classes, a 2010 study from the Exercise and Health Program at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse showed. It burns a similar number of calories and gets people to similarly elevated heart rates.

On average, participants burned 210 calories. The study used a weighted hoop and participants had some experience hooping.

A sampling of feats by hula hoop fitness instructor Getti Kehayova.

Rocking your hips from side to side to keep the hoop circling around your waist at a constant speed activates core muscles. Get creative, and it can become a full-body workout, says Getti Kehayova, a hula hoop fitness instructor in Las Vegas.

“I have everyone do squats while hula hooping,” she says. “It helps engage the quads and also helps with balance and posture.” She has students hold a 5-pound dumbbell in each hand and do arm raises to the side and front while hooping to work their shoulders. “To engage your core to the fullest, get your speed going for 30 seconds, then spin at normal speed, then spin fast again,” she says.

If you’re still a beginner, Rebecca Burton, a hula hoop fitness instructor in Gainesville, Fla., suggests alternating regular hooping with arm exercises. For example, to work your shoulders and triceps, reach your arms above your head, hands together, and spin the hoop around both hands while keeping your arm muscles engaged, Ms. Burton says.

 

This article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal. Read the original article.

Exercise vs. Drugs to Treat High Blood Pressure and Reduce Fat

Exercise vs. Drugs to Treat High Blood Pressure and Reduce Fat

Exercise can lower blood pressure and reduce visceral body fat at least as effectively as many common prescription drugs, according to two important new reviews of relevant research about the effects of exercise on maladies.

Together, the new studies support the idea that exercise can be considered medicine, and potent medicine at that. But they also raise questions about whether we know enough yet about the types and amounts of exercise that might best treat different health problems and whether we really want to start thinking of our workouts as remedies.

The possibility of formally prescribing exercise as a treatment for various health conditions, including high blood pressure, insulin resistance, obesity, osteoarthritis and others, has been gaining traction among scientists and physicians. The American College of Sports Medicine already leads a global initiative called Exercise Is Medicine, which aims to encourage doctors to include exercise prescriptions as part of disease treatments.

But while drugs face extensive testing before they can be approved and prescribed, exercise studies, even those examining exercise as a treatment for illness, have tended to be relatively small and short-term. They also rarely compare exercise, head-to-head, with drugs to treat the same condition.

So, the authors of the two new reviews independently decided to stage their own exercise-versus-drugs scientific rumbles and, for each, use the same, slightly indirect approach. They would, the researchers decided, collect the best recent studies looking at the effectiveness of drugs for a condition and the best comparable studies using exercise to treat the same illness and collate, analyze and compare the various results.

For the first of the new reviews, which was published in December in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers at the London School of Economics, Stanford University and other institutions decided to focus on systolic blood pressure (the top number), in large part because high blood pressure can be so physically devastating, increasing risks for heart disease, Alzheimer’s and early death. Hypertension also is treatable, with drugs that include beta blockers, diuretics and many others, or exercise.

The researchers now gathered 391 randomized, controlled trials — the accepted gold standard for testing treatments — that looked at either a drug or some form of exercise to lower blood pressure. Together, the experiments included almost 50,000 volunteers, with more than 10,000 of them in the exercise studies.

The researchers then summed the data from the drug or exercise tests and found that, in aggregate, all of the drugs and any type of exercise lowered blood pressure, although drugs generally achieved slightly greater reductions. That extra bump downward from drugs may have been a result in part, the researchers believe, to a reliance on relatively healthy volunteers in the exercise studies; their starting blood pressures tended to be lower than in the drug trials, so the drop by the end was slighter.

The methods in the exercise studies also often were less tidy and precise than in the drug tests, the researchers point out. Volunteers in the exercise studies rarely were blinded, for instance, since it’s hard to prevent people from knowing whether or not they are working out. There also was little long-term follow-up of exercisers.

Some of these same issues bedeviled the exercise science highlighted in the other new review, which was published in February in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. For this study, the researchers zeroed in on fat and, in particular, visceral fat, a particularly hazardous type of fat that accumulates around our middles and deep beneath the skin, smothering internal organs and heightening the risk of metabolic problems.

Several drugs currently are approved to trim visceral and other types of fat, including metformin and orlistat. Exercise also has been shown to reduce visceral fat. But there has been little science comparing those approaches.

So, the researchers, most of them from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, rounded up recent relevant drug experiments and similar randomized trials using exercise to fight visceral fat. All of the experiments had to have lasted for at least six months. Then they aggregated results.

Again, as in the other review, drugs and exercise both succeeded for most participants; using either approach, most people lost some visceral fat. But in this review, exercise was slightly superior in that for every pound someone dropped, more of it was visceral fat when they exercised than when they used drugs.

The upshot of the review is that “lifestyle changes such as exercise should be the first step” when people set out to reduce visceral fat, says Dr. Ian Neeland, an assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, who oversaw the new review.

He and his colleagues also found that aerobic exercise trimmed visceral fat more effectively than strength training, although most of the exercise trials were small-scale and had no placebo control.

Taken together, the new reviews indicate that exercise can equal or exceed the effects of drugs on high blood pressure and visceral fat. But they also underscore that clinical exercise science could stand to raise its game and develop greater rigor in testing exercise as medicine.

Long-lasting studies that directly compare different drugs and various types of workouts are needed, Dr. Neeland says, although they will be logistically difficult and expensive.

 

This article was originally published in The New York Times. Read the original article.

Can a Person Learn While Sleeping?

Can a Person Learn While Sleeping?

For most people, the 16 hours spent awake each day are hardly enough time to get critical tasks done, let alone acquire knowledge. Yet a growing number of neuroscientists believe that sleep not only helps cement memories, but is actually a time to learn something new—even a foreign language.

Sanam Hafeez, a clinical neuropsychologist and professor at Columbia University, explains how this might be possible.

Learn This Word: Hypnopedia

Through decades of research, Dr. Hafeez says, scientists have concluded that while we’re bombarded by stimuli all day, sleep is the time when the brain filters all that information. “I think of it as a computer shuffling process: junk, junk, junk, important, junk,” she says. “As it tunes out all these distractions, the brain encodes information and decides how important a memory or a piece of information is.”

study published in 1965 using electroencephalograms (EEGs) showed that hypnopedia, or sleep-learning, was a real thing. In that and later studies, researchers showed that during certain cycles of sleep that don’t include dreaming, the hippocampus—the primary area of the brain related to memory and learning, as well as in the retrieval of new learning—is activated.

This happens, Dr. Hafeez says, through “neural oscillatory activity,” or the up-and-down of wakefulness that occurs during Stage 2 non-REM sleep, when the heart rate slows and body temperature drops. The “up-down” moments of neural activity, called sleep spindles, last half a second to two seconds and have been shown to play an essential role in sensory processing and long-term consolidation of memory.

“The up spindles of wakefulness help the brain communicate across different areas, transferring data to the correct part of the brain,” she says. Another way to look at it, she says, is the “up” phase is akin to the brain coming up for air for a split second and filing information in the appropriate place for later recall.

‘Guga’ Means ‘Elephant’

In a recent study by researchers at the University of Zurich published in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex, 68 German students were asked to learn some new Dutch words before 11 p.m. Half the students were allowed to go to sleep while the words were played back to them. The other half stayed awake while listening to the words.

After three hours of sleep or wakefulness, the 68 students were tested on their memory of the new vocabulary at 2 a.m. Researchers found that those who had listened to the words while sleeping retained much more than those who didn’t sleep.

To ensure that the inferior performance of those who stayed awake wasn’t due to sleep deprivation, researchers used EEGs. “The results were clinically significant,” Dr. Hafeez says.

For further evidence that the “up” phase of spindles are the secret to sleep learning, Dr. Hafeez points to another study published in the journal Current Biology by researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

Sleeping participants were exposed to made-up words and their translation while asleep. When the translation was replayed two to four times during the “up” state of a sleep spindle, recall was high, she says. “If they were told that ‘guga’ means ‘elephant’ while sleeping, they were able to remember that ‘guga’ was related to something big when they were awake.”

At least two other studies conditioned subjects to associate smells or sounds with new information while they were asleep. These participants retrieved that new learning when awake, without knowing that they had been exposed to new knowledge as they slept, Dr. Hafeez says.

She notes that people with schizophrenia have few sleep spindles, and women tend to have many more spindles than men, leading many neuropsychologists to infer that brain estrogen production may be important for the consolidation of memory.

Priming Your Spindles

A small industry of YouTube videos has cropped up, aiming to teach new languages that people can listen to while sleeping. Dr. Hafeez isn’t advocating for these sleep-learning language videos, but does believe that good sleep hygiene can help facilitate a higher number of spindles per night. That helps with learning and memory consolidation, both during sleep and while awake.

She recommends cutting back on caffeine by 4 p.m., exercising well before bedtime and using the bed exclusively for sleep. Then, she says, when you listen to that history podcast as you nod off at night, you just might remember a few more details about Henry VIII.

 

 

This article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal. Read the original article.

Caffeine May Increase Pain Tolerance

Caffeine May Increase Pain Tolerance

Consuming caffeine regularly may increase the ability to withstand pain, a small study suggests.

Researchers recruited 62 men and women, ages 19 to 77, and had them record their daily caffeine intake from coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks and chocolate. They averaged 170 milligrams of caffeine a day, about the amount in two cups of coffee, although 15 percent of the group consumed more than 400 milligrams a day. The study is in Psychopharmacology.

After seven days, they took the volunteers into a laboratory to test their pain tolerance using calibrated devices that gradually increased heat or pressure on a volunteer’s forearm or back. The people pressed a button on a hand-held device first when the sensation became painful, and then again when it became intolerable.

The experiment controlled for sex and race, current tobacco use and alcohol consumption, among other variables that could affect pain sensation. Still, they found that the more caffeine consumed, the greater the tolerance for pain.

“Diet can actually be a useful intervention for decreasing pain sensitivity,” said the lead author, Burel R. Goodin, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It’s not just caffeine. A study has shown, for example, that a plant-based diet can actually help increase pain tolerance.”

 

 

This article was originally published in The New York Times. Read the original article.

I Don’t Drink Coffee. Should I Start?

I Don’t Drink Coffee. Should I Start?

As someone who doesn’t drink coffee, I’m sometimes forced to ponder whether I’ve escaped an unhealthy addiction or if I’ve just been asleep my whole life.

Counting yourself out from the 64 percent of Americans who drink at least one cup a day can invite bewildered responses from dedicated coffee drinkers. To them, the benefits are clear, the drawbacks minimal.

Being in the minority, it’s easy to wonder: Have I been making a mistake? Should I and other coffee abstainers start now?

“There aren’t any guidelines to help guide you on this,” said Dr. Donald Hensrud, director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. “This is kind of an individual decision.”

Darn.

While it would be nice if medical experts just took a side, it’s not that simple.

We do know that coffee has been linked to a variety of health benefits. A recent review of studies found that greater coffee intake was linked to a decrease in liver cirrhosis risk.

Add it to the pile of headlines. Coffee has been linked to, among other things, reducing tinnitus riskincreasing driver safetycutting melanoma riskgalvanizing workoutssurviving colon cancerliving a longer life and avoiding death.

The medical consensus seems clear: Coffee is not unhealthy.

But experts tend to stop short of suggesting the uncaffeinated among us add it to our diets.

“It’s one thing to say it’s safe,” said Dr. Rob van Dam, an adjunct associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard University. “It’s another thing to recommend it as a medical choice even though people don’t like it and they’d have to make an effort to adopt it. We’d need a different level of evidence to recommend it to people.”

Health benefits tend not to be on coffee drinkers’ minds when they drag themselves out of bed or hit a midafternoon slump. They just want to feel human again, I’m told.

“How do you even function in the morning?” a friend said when I asked about coffee’s pros and cons on Facebook. “How did you even have the energy to type this status? Cannot compute.”

Part of the energy boost comes from simply addressing the withdrawal symptoms coffee drinkers have created, Dr. van Dam said. If you never create that addiction, then there is no need to raise your caffeine level to soothe it.

There are objective measures, however, that indicate increased mental performance after a cup of joe, Dr. Hensrud said. Processing speed and cognitive speed have been shown to improve. It has also been linked to decreased risk of depression.

But there are also potential downsides. Coffee is associated with side effects like insomnia, jitters or heartburn, and because people metabolize caffeine at different rates, it can be intolerable to some. If you have trouble falling asleep after a can of soda, coffee might not be for you.

You should not feel as though you’re missing out on potential health benefits, Dr. Hensrud said, especially if you don’t enjoy the taste. He said he himself didn’t start drinking coffee until he was about 30.

“I just looked at it as unnecessary,” he said, adding, “If you don’t like it, my goodness, it’s not worth it.”

Are You Addicted to Coffee?

Are You Addicted to Coffee?

With pumpkin-spice latte season in full swing, many Americans may be finding themselves waiting in line for coffee more than usual. While a cup of joe undoubtedly can give a jolt of focus to a fuzzy morning, it also has real side effects. Caffeine use disorder was added to the most recent edition of “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” as a condition for further study, and caffeine is the most-used drug in the world.

What are the signs that you’re addicted, and how can you kick the habit? One expert, Laura Juliano, a psychology professor at American University who specializes in addiction, spills the beans.

This Is Your Brain on Caffeine

When you ingest caffeine, it occupies the brain’s adenosine receptors, whose job is to tell the body it’s sleepy. By blocking that neuromodulator, the caffeine makes you feel alert. There is also evidence that caffeine stimulates the reward center of the brain.

“So the brain says, ‘This feels good. How can I do this again?’ ” Dr. Juliano says. Because your body has made adjustments to adenosine production, when the caffeine is taken away or wears off, you may experience fatigue, headaches, mood disturbances, even nausea. This is physical addiction in a nutshell: The body has adjusted for the drug, requiring increasingly more of it to get that buzz and stave off withdrawal symptoms.

“Regular users will choose to take caffeine over money, over a placebo—so it shares the same reinforcing qualities that we see in other recreational drugs,” Dr. Juliano says.

That in itself isn’t necessarily a problem. She is more concerned with psychological addiction, also referred to as caffeine use disorder in the DSM, when a person is physically dependent and uses the drug to avoid withdrawal, has tried to quit but cannot, and continues to use caffeine despite physical or psychological problems. One example, she says, would be using caffeine despite having trouble sleeping.

A pumpkin spice latte at Roos Roast in Ann Arbor, Mich.
A pumpkin spice latte at Roos Roast in Ann Arbor, Mich. PHOTO: MARK BIALEK/ZUMA PRESS
Signs of Addiction

Many people don’t know they are physically dependent until they stop consuming their go-to energy drink or macchiato on vacation or before a medical procedure.

“Since caffeine is embedded in our routines and social customs, people can go 20 years without missing a day and they don’t know they are dependent,” says Dr. Juliano, who treats caffeine and tobacco addicts. “One of my patients was drinking 20 cups of coffee a day and experiencing a great deal of anxiety until he cut back,” she says. Clear signs of withdrawal are headaches, tiredness and aches, but she’s seen worse. “Sometimes people get caught off-guard, and they think they have the flu, or the worst headache of their life.” She has even heard of someone who thought he was having a brain aneurysm.

Kicking the Habit

While studies have shown that as little as 100 mg of caffeine a day can result in physical dependence, Dr. Juliano believes that having less than 400 milligrams of caffeine day should be fine for most healthy adults, unless they are pregnant or have certain medical issues. A typical 12 oz. serving of drip coffee has anywhere from 107 mg to 420 mg, she says.

For the big energy drinker who wants to cut back, she recommends a slow wean, not cold turkey. That is because if you just quit, Days Two and Three can be a misery of withdrawal, and can even include vomiting and nausea. “But it’s temporary,” Dr. Juliano says. “Most people are past the worst withdrawal symptoms three days after the last dose. After nine days, it should resolve.”

To avoid the worst, “We suggest you cut your caffeine consumption in half each week,” she says. In a month, the withdrawal should be more tolerable. She continues to work with patients to keep them off anxiety-inducing caffeine, since preventing a relapse can be harder than quitting.

Worth the Suffering?

Dr. Juliano herself drinks coffee daily, just like more than 50% of Americans, according to the National Coffee Association. She doesn’t think most people have a psychological addiction, but she does offer a checklist to see if going without caffeine is worth the pain of withdrawal.

She suggests checking in regularly with yourself, asking how your general health is, how you’re sleeping and how your anxiety levels are.

“In our society, we have many people who suffer from anxiety and sleep problems, and they should consider giving themselves some relief from caffeine and seeing if that helps,” she says. Added bonus: all that money saved on cappuccinos and energy drinks.

 

article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal. Read the original article.

How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

“Caffeine intoxication” became official in the medical community when the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” known as DSM-5, added the diagnosis last year.

So do cappuccino lovers need to worry about limiting their consumption?

One expert, Matthew Johnson, associate professor in the department of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, explains how caffeine works in the body and when to cut back.

Caffeine works by blocking adenosine, a neuromodulator in the brain that puts the brakes on excitatory neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. “Caffeine allows these stimulating chemicals to flow, which can have a rousing effect, even at very low doses,” says Dr. Johnson, a psychopharmacologist who studies the influence of drugs on behavior and mood.

Some people will get edgy from a weak cup of tea. For others, a double espresso is required to get them into the shower in the morning.

Most coffee drinkers are familiar with at least some symptoms of overindulging—nervousness, excitement, insomnia, rambling thoughts. But a large majority of people who consume caffeine don’t experience severe consequences, Dr. Johnson says.

There are some case reports of students experiencing major anxiety after drinking a dozen cups of coffee, Dr. Johnson says. But overdosing would be difficult, “unless folks took multiple caffeine pills or drank many cans of energy drinks” such as Red Bull.

It is possible for a person to die from too much caffeine, “but that would mean about 14,000 milligrams, or around 140 8-ounce cups of coffee in one day,” Dr. Johnson says. Consuming that much would be difficult because of coffee’s self-limiting nature. “One cup makes you feel good and alert, but five cups may make you feel like your stomach is cramping,” he says. “You feel wired and you wouldn’t typically be able to go overboard.”

While clinicians may observe benefits and risks of caffeine intake, the effects are still being debated in academic circles, Dr. Johnson says. “The evidence that unfiltered coffee increases LDL cholesterol levels is convincing,” he says, referring to the “bad” type of cholesterol. “But it’s the mortality studies that count the most,” he says.

One study suggests mortality benefits at up to six cups of coffee a day, Dr. Johnson says. Another suggested mortality risks in people under 55 who drink more than four cups a day. As a result, “I would be hesitant to say that we’ve reached any final answer,” he says.

Current research into depression has looked closely at glutamate, one of the neurotransmitters affected by caffeine, Dr. Johnson says. “In a recent study, those who drank two to four cups of caffeinated coffee had fewer depressive symptoms, and the opposite was true for those who lowered their intake,” he says. That doesn’t mean depressed patients would benefit from a steady diet of triple lattes. “If a patient is depressed and predisposed to panic attacks, for example, caffeine might make the condition worse,” he says.

The most convincing evidence indicates you’re probably not at risk for major side effects if you consume up to about four 8-ounce cups of filtered coffee, or around 400mg, early in the day, Dr. Johnson says. “If you’re drinking under four cups a day and not having any side effects, then you’re probably OK,” he says.

 

This article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal. Read the original article.