Caffeine is the main ingredient in coffee, tea and also dark chocolates, acting as mild stimulants that contribute to many benefits. Research shows that it’s linked to lowering risks of Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes and liver diseases. But even with caffeine, too much of a good thing can lead to a bad one. Some of caffeine’s lesser-known effects hinted that it can be worrisome for people with high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis. Plus, caffeine can interact poorly with some common medications, and it can worsen insomnia, anxiety and heartburn.
It’s always a good idea to check into the benefits and disadvantages of caffeine intake, as well as check your daily intake to make sure that you are getting the right amount of nutrition from it.
Sources of caffeine
Tea, coffee, and chocolate are natural sources of caffeine and are commonly added as extra ingredients to gum, jelly beans, waffles, water, syrup, marshmallows, sunflower seeds, and other snacks.
According to the FDA, healthy adults are recommended to limit their caffeine intake to a maximum of 400 milligrams (mg) a day, equivalent to about 4 or 5 cups of coffee. However, this amount is not associated with negative effects.
Decaffeinated cola and soft drinks contain no caffeine, but decaffeinated coffee is not caffeine-free and energy drinks may contain varying amounts of caffeine.
The benefits of Caffeine
- Good source of antioxidants
Antioxidants act as scavengers to fight free radicals in the body cells and prevent or reduce the damage caused by oxidation. High levels of free radicals cause harm to your body, linking to various illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Our bodies usually have their own antioxidant defences to keep free radicals in check.
Coffee especially, contains a distinct amount of powerful antioxidants, including hydroxycinnamic acids and polyphenols. Hydrocinnamic acids are the most potent in neutralizing free radicals and preventing oxidative stress. Additionally, the polyphenols in coffee inhibit a few conditions, including heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
- Boosting your metabolism and fat burning
Through the process of lipolysis, caffeine modifies the body’s preferred metabolic substrate from glycogen to fat and this stimulates hormone-sensitive lipase. Consumers who binge drink energy drinks (caffeine at a very high dose) turn protein kinase A into action, an enzyme key to lipid and glucose metabolism.
Caffeine has a distinct ability to stimulate the central nervous system, so it may increase metabolism by up to 11% and fat burning by up to 13%.
- Enhancing mood and brain functions
Caffeine has the ability to block the brain-signalling molecule adenosine which signals the body to become drowsy. This leads to a surge in other signalling molecules, such as dopamine and norepinephrine that is thought to benefit your mood and brain function.
Several studies and reviews reported that consumers of coffee had improved alertness, short-term recall, and reaction time, as well as a lower risk of suicide and depression.
It’s important to note that coffee and tea contain other bioactive compounds (besides caffeine) that may also be beneficial.
- Lowering risks of Parkinson’s disease
The authors of an editorial published in Neurology discussed this association and mentioned that one of the calming effects of caffeine found in various sources including coffee, tea, and some sodas has been concluded in large prospectively followed populations of men. The significant risk reduction goes up to fivefold for people who drank more than 4 cups of coffee a day. Whereas decaffeinated coffee showed no consequential effects, pointing to caffeine rather than other substances in coffee or tea as the underlying pharmacologic agent. For women, no equivalence connection is found.
Additionally, although caffeine does not reduce excessive daytime drowsiness in patients with Parkinson’s disease, some researchers have shown that it may enhance motor function in this population.
- Lowering risks of Alzheimer’s disease
One study involving the correlation between the consumption of coffee and/or tea in midlife and the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease risk in late life (mean follow-up period: 21 years), showed that coffee drinkers had lesser risks of Alzheimer’s disease compared to non-drinkers. The most fascinating news is that those who drank 3-5 cups of java per day had the lowest risk, going up to 65%.
- Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
Based on a long-term study, participants who increased their coffee intake by more than one cup a day over a 4-year period had a 1 per cent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with people who did not change their intake. People who lowered their daily consumption by more than one cup of coffee showed a 17 per cent higher risk for type 2 diabetes. A study published in Diabetes Care in 2004 linked high coffee consumption over a period of 4 weeks with increased fasting insulin concentrations. However, the reasons for the link were unclear. It may be due to lowered insulin sensitivity, meaning the body does not use the insulin produced efficiently.
Risks of too much caffeine
- Caffeine addiction
Low to moderate doses of caffeine are safe, however, it is notable that it is addictive and users can become dependent on it. Some even find it very difficult to quit or to cut back their usual daily intake. Consumers that quit cold turkey could experience withdrawal symptoms including pounding headaches, mental fogginess and fatigue for a couple of days until the body adjusts.
Besides, caffeine also messes with your sleeping pattern and induces anxiety. This could cause sleep deprivation, while relying on caffeine to help with daytime fatigue, leading to more insomnia.
- Drug interaction
It is important to remember that caffeine interacts with some medications, including thyroid medication, psychiatric and depression drugs, the antibiotic Cipro and the heartburn drug Tagamet. Generally, consuming any medications with coffee is not advisable, and always make sure to ask your general practitioner what interactions that could happen with your medication.
- Rises in blood sugar levels
Diabetic patients especially type 2 diabetes who consume caffeine on a daily basis may have it harder to manage their insulin. According to numerous studies; it also can slightly raise blood pressure. If you have difficulty controlling either your blood pressure or diabetes, switching to decaf may help, says Rob van Dam with Harvard’s School of Public Health.
- Potentially leads to some spinal bone loss in postmenopausal women
Linda Massey, emeritus professor of nutrition at Washington State University stated that women in postmenopause have a higher risk of spinal bone loss if they commonly drink more than three cups (equivalent to 300 mg of caffeine) a day while lacking calcium intake in their diet. Older women must make sure that they consume at least 800 mg of calcium daily, be it by food or supplements, in order to counteract caffeine’s effect on calcium.
- Not suitable for those with acid reflux or heartburn
Bad news to coffee lovers with heartburn, coffee is unfortunately very acidic and is irritating to the gastrointestinal tract. Although the decaf option is there, it really doesn’t make much of a difference. Some research has shown that decaf actually increases stomach acid more than caffeinated coffee and switching methods of brewing or roasting will not help either. The best way is to avoid coffee entirely.
The same goes for those with acid reflux, caffeine may be the main culprit by relaxing the sphincter muscle that normally keeps stomach acid from bubbling up the oesophagus. However, decaf coffee has significantly less of a reflux effect based on studies.
- Throat tightness/irritation
If consuming caffeine causes throat tightness or difficulty breathing, it could be due to a rare case of caffeine allergy. In this case, you should refer to your doctor to perform a skin prick test to find out whether the caffeine or another ingredient is to blame.
Throat irritation or tightness is mainly caused by gastrointestinal issues, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Consuming substances such as coffee, chocolate or citrus foods may weaken the lower esophageal sphincter and cause it to not close properly. This would allow the contents of the stomach to move up into the esophagus and affect your throat.
Cut back or continue?
Ultimately, it all depends on you and your habits of consumption. Taking moderate amounts of caffeine suggests that it is not harmful, and may bring important health benefits. The FDA recommends an intake of no more than 400 mg a day, which is equivalent to four to five cups of coffee a day.
The effects, however, will be different according to the consumption amount, the individual’s size and gender, sensitivity to the effects, and any other medications or supplements they may be taking.
If you are considering cutting back on drinking caffeine-containing beverages, it is better to do so at your own pace. Cutting back cold turkey would usually cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, and nervousness. It may not be as dangerous as opioid or alcohol withdrawal, but it can still be an unpleasant experience. In this case, you may need to consult with your healthcare provider about slowing down or quitting overall.
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