Caffeine has generally been recognized in the past as being dehydrating to the body while also causing diuresis. Health advocates in the past have encouraged singers as well as educators and public speakers to reduce their intake of caffeine because it is presumed to have a dehydrating effect on the voice. Presently, some information provided on vocal health websites encourage consumers to refrain from caffeinated beverages, in order to maintain fluid balance and one’s hydration status in the body.
Is caffeine dehydrating to the vocal folds? Does it compromise a singer’s ability to perform well?
Caffeine is one substance assumed to be associated with voice problems by causing systemic dehydration. It has been thought that if you drink coffee, you are robbing the body of water. Past reports have stated that for every cup of coffee drunk, 2 cups of urine is eliminated.
Why is hydration so important for the singer? Singers rely on a well hydrated body for optimal vocal production for many reasons, but primarily because hydration maintains suppleness and litheness for the vocal folds. Hydration also helps to lubricate the mucosal lining protecting the folds from resistance or abrasion during phonation. Well lubricated and supple folds provide stamina for the speaking voice, aid in vocal projection, maintain flexibility with regard to the cartilage and muscular tissues and keep inflammation from becoming an issue. Avoiding agents that dehydrate the vocal folds is an integral part of vocal hygiene education.
Singers are encouraged to establish and maintain a vocal hygiene program. Since systemic dehydration is detrimental to voice production the avoidance of any external agents that might prevent lubrication of the folds and their flexibility is critical. Because of the presumed drying effects of caffeine, many voice clinicians encourage an abstinence of all beverages containing caffeine. This advice remains common among medical and voice instructors even though there is little evidence to support the belief that caffeine consumption induces negative changes to the voice. Still, singers must consider how their behavior regarding use of the voice, diet, exercise and sleep impact their performance. All decisions regarding lifestyle can serve as a benefit or detriment to the singer.
Should we partake of caffeine? If so, then how much? Does the water in caffeinated drinks help us or not? Killer, Blannin, and Jeukendrup (2014) conducted a study to compare the effects of caffeinated coffee consumption against water ingestion using a range of validated hydration assessment techniques. 50 male coffee drinkers that habitually consumed 3 – 6 cups a day participated in two trials. Each of the trials lasted three consecutive days. In addition to controlled fluid intake, the food intake and physical activity were also controlled. The participants consumed either 200 milligrams of coffee containing 4 milligrams/kilograms caffeine or water. The results showed that there were no significant changes in total body water or total body mass from beginning to end of either trial . There were also no differences between trials with TBW and TBM. These data suggest that coffee, when consumed in moderation by caffeine habituated males provides similar qualities to water. The researchers did caution that no results of this study would be used to infer if there would be no effect with greater amounts of caffeine.
Franca and Simpson (2013) conducted a pilot study to understand the effects of the interaction of caffeine and water intake on the voice as evidenced by acoustic and aerodynamic measurements. The investigation was to determine if the ingestion of 200mg of caffeine and various levels of water intake have an impact on the voice. The participants (N=48) were 49 females ranging in age from 18 – 35 years. The participants followed a protocol that included recording weight and height, as well as menstrual cycle phase identification. Results showed no significant changes in voice or acoustic and aerodynamic measurements across all four groups. The results suggest that 200 mg caffeine may not degrade vocal acoustics and aerodynamics. It also suggests that 200 mg caffeine and water hydration may not lead to statistically significant changes.
Current research shows that a moderate intake of caffeinated beverages do not put one at risk of dehydration. Journals now report that informed medical doctors, exercise physiologists, and human physiologists agree that caffeinated beverages when consumed in moderation cannot put the body in dehydrated status. The body must replenish its fluids everyday because a significant amount of whatever we drink is lost.
If you’re a regular coffee drinker, one cup will hardly have negative ramifications. The body adapts to a person’s coffee-drinking habits. The more coffee you habitually drink, the less water you’ll lose from it. (Evans, 1998). Many experts also agree that coffee has a hydrating rather than a dehydrating effect because it is a fluid. It is absolutely not recommended over water. As long as one does not add cream and sugar to their cup of coffee, their cup of coffee will contain 95% water!
Still, water is the best source for hydration and therefore the best means to ensuring a singer’s vocal folds are operating at the most optimal level. Over the last several years, we have come to understand that the amount of water one should intake on a daily basis depends on your size and weight, as well as your activity level. As recent as 2014, the United States Food and Drug Administration stated that one should drink eight, eight ounces of water every day. Now, the general rule of thumb is to drink between half an ounce and an ounce of water for each pound you weigh, every day, based on normal physical activity.
In the end, be sensitive to your body. Listen to it. Monitor everything that goes in so the notes that come out are as sweet as the sugar you left in the doughnut still sitting on your plate.
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