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A few thoughts on caffeine and skepticism

March 26, 2014

Fellow tweeter Grant Fritchey favored us with a link to a NY Post article: Society’s favorite drug affects us more than we think, which makes several points: that caffeine is the only drug we’re proud to be addicted to, for one. And that it has more effect on us than we think.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. – Mark Twain

I spend maybe more than my fair share of time thinking about the assumptions we take for granted (and really, aren’t all assumptions taken for granted? Otherwise they’d be conclusions).  Assumptions about gender differences, about what’s safe and what’s healthy, assumptions about relationships.  My major conclusion is that common consensus needs to be heavily tempered with observation, and vice versa.  Also a good dollop of skepticism.

The big example that leaps to mind is cancer. THESE things cause cancer, THESE things could, and THESE things are safe, right? Guys, tons of things cause cancer. I find it best to avoid and/or reduce the things known to cause cancer, and wait and see for everything else.  I don’t think I’m going to get brain cancer from my cel phone, but I also don’t spend a lot of time with it strapped to my head.  On the flip side, whenever I hear that a technology (or a drug, new food additive, or whatever) is safe, I think about radium dial watches (see Wikipedia) and shoe store X-ray machines (see Wikipedia, Gizmodo). So sure, backscatter x-ray machines may well be safe, but I’ll take the traditional bullshit pat-down for me and my kids EVERY SINGLE TIME I fly. If it’s still safe in 30 years, then maybe I’ll concede.

But back to caffeine…

In my case, I found that caffeine – especially coupled when I’m not sleeping enough – make my anxiety level spike, even first thing in the morning. So I’ve switched entirely to decaf, and almost entirely to caffeine free soda. It’s made a huge difference.  And by the way, that huge effect for me (and women like me) may be in part due to this:

Coffee consumption has fallen in tandem with smoking rates — and with reason. Smokers, because they activate a liver enzyme that digests coffee at double the rate of non-smokers, need to drink twice the amount of coffee to get the same kick.

Women who are on birth control inhibit these same enzymes, which means they need half the amount of coffee to get their high.

(And no, I’m not a smoker.)

So yes, I agree with the article on this: caffeine can have a big impact. And seriously, who knows what kind of long term effect high doses of caffeine could have? We don’t KNOW why some people live a long-ass time on a diet of whiskey and potato chips. We don’t know why others die of heart attacks at 37. Doctors and scientists are smart, and they’ve got good evidence that (A) is better for you and (B) is far worse for you and OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU EATING IT, but I suspect most of them would agree: moderation and skepticism are part of a balanced diet.

That’s all.

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