Ask a Wellness Ambassador: coffee habit, birth control options

A biweekly column addressing students’ health questions from office of Health, Wellness, and Recreation.

Dear Wellness Ambassadors,

Whenever I am in school I drink about 3-5 cups of coffee per day to stay awake, and my friends say that drinking too much coffee is bad for your health. How much is too much?

Many of us know how coffee can be very helpful for keeping focused and staying alert during the day. While there have been many studies on the effects of coffee on an individual, a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute studied the effects of the numerous compounds in coffee on cutaneous melanoma —the fifth most common cancer in the US.

The study found that four cups of coffee has the ability to reduce your risk of melanoma by 20 percent. Drinking three to five cups of coffee per day has been shown to increase your health in various ways.

For example, according to research that was presented at the 2012 World Congress Prevention of Diabetes and its Complications, drinking three to five 8 oz. cups of coffee a day lowers your chance of developing diabetes by 25 percent. In addition, coffee has also been known to help your mental and cognitive abilities and can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 20 percent.

Coffee is mostly consumed to reap the benefits of caffeine. Up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. That’s roughly the amount of caffeine in four cups of brewed coffee. So technically, your daily consumption of three to five cups of coffee per day falls within this range.

However, there are known health risks to drinking too much coffee as well. On the days you consume five cups of coffee per day, there is a chance you will consume closer to 500 to 600 mg. This can have some negative side effects such as insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, and muscle tremors. Depending on how sensitive an individual is to caffeine, it can make them more susceptible to these side effects.

In addition, it is important to make sure you are getting enough sleep. Most adults require about eight hours of sleep, although it can vary depending on each person’s specific requirements. Sleep loss is cumulative, and even small nightly decreases can add up and disturb your daytime alertness and performance. Caffeine and coffee can be employed to mask a poor sleep cycle and contribute further to the lack of sleep you may be getting.

Try to cut back to three cups of coffee per day and stay under the 400 milligrams. Also try to make sure you are getting enough sleep and depending not on coffee to keep you awake, but instead on a steady and consistent sleep cycle.

Dear Wellness Ambassadors,

I am sexually active, but I am not really comfortable taking birth control pills as I am afraid it will affect my body’s chemistry. What other contraception options are there?

Hormone-based contraceptives are available in many forms, such as oral contraceptives (the pill), a hormone patch, the ring, the shot, and implantable preparations. Birth control has many effects on the body. Most importantly, birth control affects the reproductive system. Ovaries naturally produce the hormones estrogen and progestin. One or both of these hormones can also be synthetically made and used in contraceptives. Higher than normal levels of estrogen and progestin stop the ovary from releasing an egg.

Birth control also has an effect on other body systems, such as the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. In healthy non-smokers they rarely cause problems, although taking oral contraceptives can be a concern if you are a current smoker. Some hormonal birth controls can increase blood pressure or cause migraines.

In addition, the integumentary system, including the skin, hair, and nails, can also be affected. This is usually shown in the form of an improvement of acne or sometimes as unusual hair growth. Some people also feel a change in mood on hormonal birth control. These effects are why hormonal birth control is prescribed and monitored by doctors. If you do take birth control, be aware of the changes your body undergoes and inform your doctor if you feel something is not right.

We should note that many people take hormonal birth control without any adverse effects. However, if you do not want to take hormonal birth control, don’t worry—there are many other options for you!

First off, an easy and effective birth control method is using a condom. With typical use, the male condom is 85 percent effective. If used correctly, consistently, and all of the time, the male condom is 98% percent effective. It also has the added benefit of protecting against STIs.

An Intra-Uterine Device (IUD) is a T-shaped copper-releasing device that can be safely inserted into the uterus by a health care provider. By releasing copper, an IUD works by blocking the movement of the sperm inside the uterus so they die before they are able to fertilize an egg. The IUD is more than 99 percent effective and prevents pregnancy for 10 or more years; however, it does not protect against STIs.

There are also other barrier methods like diaphragms and cervical caps, which cover the cervix to prevent the sperm from reaching an egg. It’s important to note these need to be used with spermicide, which contains a chemical that kills sperm on contact.

If you truly are concerned about the hormonal changes that birth control can have on your body, you can always talk to your doctor. Work together with your health care provider to find the option that will be best for you.

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