Health Risks of Caffeine for Seniors

In our last article we discussed the health benefits of caffeine for seniors, but seniors should be aware that there are risks associated with caffeine consumption as well. Ignoring the risks associated with caffeine can be very problematic so it is important for seniors to know the negative side effects that they might experience after consuming too much caffeine. In this article we would like to offer some information about the health risks of caffeine for seniors.

The first thing that seniors should consider is whether or not they fall into an “at risk” group. At risk groups include seniors with gastritis or ulcers, diabetes, osteoporosis and seniors taking certain types of medication. The effects of caffeine on seniors with any of these conditions can be very harmful and will be discussed further in this article. A quick example of the effects of caffeine on “at risk” groups is those with gastritis or ulcers drinking coffee on a regular basis. Coffee is very acidic which is very bad for those experiencing those conditions because the acid can worsen the symptoms of gastritis and make treatment more difficult.

The next major concern for seniors is dehydration. Caffeine is a known diuretic which means that it promotes the production of urine which in turn can cause dehydration. Seniors are more sensitive to fluctuations in the amount of fluid in their body so becoming dehydrated can lead to lightheadedness and falls in the elderly. Seniors who regularly drink high amounts of caffeine should make sure that they are also taking in plenty of water throughout the day to prevent dehydration.

Caffeine can also be dangerous if it is continuously consumed because of its long term effects on the body. Consuming caffeine stimulates the adrenal hormones and activates the sympathetic nervous system which causes the parasympathetic nervous system to become inactive. The parasympathetic nervous system is important to our body because it regulates hormone levels, body temperature, digestion and nutrient absorption. Having too much caffeine in the body causes the sympathetic nervous system to remain active which in turn causes the hormones to become out of balance since they are not being regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system like they normally would be.

Hormonal imbalances can lead to osteoporosis which is very important for seniors to avoid because as we age our bones begin to lose density and osteoporosis makes this process occur much faster. Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men are so women should keep this fact in mind before consuming caffeine. Minerals are often the most difficult things for our body to absorb and caffeine can make the process even harder by decreasing the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Seniors need to take in as much calcium as they can for bone health so it is important for them to avoid consuming too much caffeine and decreasing their calcium absorption.

Caffeine can also boost blood glucose levels which means that seniors with diabetes and seniors at risk for diabetes should limit their caffeine intake to avoid elevations in their blood sugar. Managing blood sugar levels is very important for seniors with diabetes because it keeps symptoms under control and allows seniors to maintain a healthier body. There are also a number of other negative side effects associated with caffeine consumption that can affect people of all ages such as insomnia, nervousness, irritability, upset stomach, fast heartbeat and muscle tremors. These symptoms are usually associated with higher daily consumption values, usually around 500-600 mg a day, and are not seen as often when caffeine is consumed in moderation so this is important to keep in mind during the day.

Medications such as theophylline, Echinacea and some antibiotics can react with caffeine so seniors should consult their doctor before consuming caffeine with any of these medications. All of these medications produce negative effects when taken with caffeine and seniors are more susceptible to the negative effects of caffeine so it is extremely important that seniors do not take these medications with caffeine. Seniors taking antibiotics can ask their doctor if their antibiotics are safe to take with caffeine or not.

Seniors who fall into an at risk group such as those with osteoporosis, diabetes, gastritis or ulcers should always consult their doctor before consuming caffeine, but it is also a good idea for seniors without any of those conditions to consult their regular doctor as well. Some people are less tolerable to caffeine and should consume less, and doctors will be able to assess seniors on an individual basis. Family caregivers can help their loved ones avoid the negative side effects of caffeine by providing caffeine free drinks or helping their loved ones keep track of how much caffeine they are consuming.

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