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The Caffeine Controversy

Can caffeine safely rev up your energy levels?

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Can caffeine safely rev up your energy levels?

Vibrant natural energy is truly a wonderful feeling that too few people experience on a consistent basis. The number of Americans suffering from fatigue is staggering. Fatigue is by far the most common medical complaint in medical practice, yet it remains one that is dealt with inadequately.

Causes of Fatigue

Fatigue can be caused by a variety of physical and psychological factors, including depression, diabetes, poor sleep quality, hypothyroidism, and pain. There is also a long list of medications that include fatigue as a common side effect, medications for high blood pressure and anxiety in particular.

Nutritional factors are important as well, including nutrient deficiencies and blood sugar instability or hypoglycemia. In fact, simple iron deficiency alone is a major cause of fatigue in the United States, particularly in women. Long before anemia develops, iron-dependent enzymes involved in energy production and metabolism in the brain and body are the first to be affected by low iron levels. Measuring the iron storage protein ferritin in the blood is always an important diagnostic consideration in anyone, but especially menstruating women.

Energy Basics

As you can see, there are many factors to consider when trying to boost energy levels naturally. The best approach is to address any

underlying factor as effectively as possible. Beyond that, there are three supplements that are essential in any health promotion plan:

  • a high-potency multiple vitamin and mineral
  • a high-quality “greens” drink
  • a quality fish oil supplement

Once this strong nutritional foundation has been established, many people with low energy levels can benefit from dietary supplements containing caffeine-based natural energy formulas.

Caffeine’s Role

Is caffeine a suitable energy booster? There is no question that caffeine is a stimulant that can increase both physical and mental energy levels. Cultures all around the globe have safely and enthusiastically used plant-based stimulants in traditional beverages to help them make it through the day with higher energy levels. Green tea, guarana, cola nut, and cocoa are good examples.

In its natural form, the caffeine is provided along with plant compounds that tend to lessen some of the negative effects of caffeine, such as anxiety and nervousness. For example, in addition to containing caffeine, green tea provides the compound L-theanine, which counteracts some of the effects of caffeine on the brain that can lead to nervousness and interference with sleep.

Exactly how extreme the effects of a moderate dosage of caffeine (e.g., 10–125 mg) are on a person is tremendously influenced by their regular consumption pattern in most instances. In other words, if you regularly ingest caffeine, you develop a tolerance to it. If you don’t regularly consume caffeine or are a “slow metabolizer” of caffeine, the effects are much more pronounced.

Controlled studies of the effects of caffeine on performance have a long history, dating to the late nineteenth century. Early studies showed caffeine intake improved performance in many repetitive tasks. For example, in typists, caffeine consumption increased both speed and accuracy. The coffee break was probably invented because companies wanted to encourage the use of coffee to ramp up performance.

There is now a large body of scientific evidence on the performance-enhancing effects of caffeine. It definitely can improve attention and reaction time. However, one area where caffeine consumption does not appear to improve performance is in complex mental processes. Caffeine does not make you smarter or help you focus with mental clarity.

Caffeine + GABA

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is one of the brain’s most important compounds. PharmaGABA is a special natural form of GABA that has yielded some very interesting results in clinical studies. In particular, PharmaGABA has shown impressive results in combating stress, including showing an ability to lower cortisol levels and other markers of acute stress during exposure to stressful situations.

When a caffeine source is combined with PharmaGABA there is a synergistic effect in improving mental function that is readily apparent. And as a benefit, PharmaGABA reduces the stress-producing effects of caffeine. In a study conducted at University of Shizuoka in Japan, PharmaGABA was shown to counteract the stress-producing effects of caffeine to promote feelings of calmness despite the boost in energy levels. Subjects consumed either a cup of regular coffee or the same cup of coffee plus 28 mg of PharmaGABA. The level of chromogranin A (a marker of stress) as well as salivary chemilumenence (another marker of stress) were significantly lower in the group getting the PharmaGABA.


Is caffeine for everybody? There are a few situations where I do not recommend consuming any significant amount of caffeine (e.g., daily intakes in excess of 30–50 mg), including people very sensitive to caffeine or those with insomnia, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, fibrocystic breast disease, or high blood pressure. If you suffer from one of these conditions and seek to increase your energy levels, I would recommend herbal approaches that seek to boost energy levels by supporting adrenal function, such as extracts of Withania somnifera, Rhodiola rosea, or Siberian ginseng. Often, extracts of these plants are combined into formulas designed to restore adrenal gland health or support dealing with stress. It is particularly important to avoid caffeine if you suffer from poor sleep quality, as doing so can lead to significant improvements in sleep quality, which can result in a tremendous boost in daytime energy.

What is an effective dosage of caffeine?

It depends on your size, habitual use, and how quickly you break down caffeine. It is estimated that the average daily dosage of caffeine for dietary, food, and supplement sources in the United States is roughly 250 mg per day (the equivalent of about 2 1/2 cups of coffee) for adults. I certainly would not recommend going above that value. For dietary supplements being used as energy enhancers, I recommend starting with a dosage of 100–125 mg no more than twice per day.

Good Buys

living essentials 5-Hour Energy One shot contains as much caffeine as a cup of premium coffee, plus B vitamins and an energy blend including taurine and n-acetyl l-tyrosine.

natural Factors stress-relax pHARMA GABA promotes mental alertness along with a feeling of calm when combined with caffeine.

Vitalah oxylent multivitamin drink energizes, oxygenates, hydrates, and rejuvenates with a blend of enzymes, electrolytes, B-vitamins. CoQ10, and more.