Coffee and caffeine addicts everywhere will tell you: “My day doesn’t start until I've had my coffee (or hot tea, or whichever source of caffeine you choose).” Are we “coffee crazies” looking for ways to validate our obsession with brewed goodness? Yes we are! Have we found some legitimate scientific proof? Yes we have! It’s always comforting to find medical evidence that one of your favorite things can actually be good for you. But with anything we find ourselves dependent on, there are always risks or measures we should take to make sure we aren’t consuming too much of any one thing. Is caffeine really good for you? What are some risks about caffeine that we should be aware of? Pour yourself a cup of your favorite brew and let’s unlock the mysteries about caffeine.
Caffeine: An Overview
Caffeine is a natural substance found mostly in coffee, tea, and cacao plants, and it is classified as a stimulant, meaning that it stimulates your brain and your nervous system to keep you awake and alert for a certain period of time. Research shows that nearly 80% of the people on planet earth consume something with caffeine in it everyday, while those of us in North America bump that figure up to 90%. The USDA classifies a safe caffeine consumption as 400 mg per day, which equals up to anywhere from 2-4 cups of coffee per day, depending on cup size and volume.
- As you consume caffeine it gets absorbed from your stomach into your bloodstream. It mainly affects your brain by blocking a neurotransmitter called adenosine that makes you feel tired and allows you to feel relaxed. Adenosine typically builds up during the day making you feel tired and wanting to go to sleep, but caffeine blocks these effects, helping you stay awake and alert.
- Caffeine can also increase the adrenaline levels in the blood and increase the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. In medical terms, caffeine is classified as a psychoactive drug because it affects your brain and causes it to keep you alert and active.
- One cup of coffee can reach your bloodstream in 20 minutes and be fully effective at about an hour.
Where Can You Find Caffeine?
Caffeine occurs naturally in the leaves, seeds and nuts of various plants that are picked, harvested and produced and added to different products. Everyone knows the obvious items containing caffeine, but it takes up residence in other things that just might surprise you.
- Brewed Tea
- Most sodas
- Decaffeinated coffee - it still has some in it
- Beverages containing cocoa - hot chocolate, chocolate milk
- Energy drinks
- Regular milk
- Over the counter cold medicines
- Some prescription drugs
- Weight loss medications
Caffeine does a fantastic job at keeping us awake and going, but there are MANY more benefits to it, some that may just surprise you. Whether you get your caffeine from coffee, tea, sodas, or chocolate, this compound packs a healthier “punch” than most people realize!
- Drinking 3-5 cups of coffee or tea a day and help to reduce your risk of developing diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease by anywhere from 28% to 60%
- Caffeine can increase your metabolism and your body’s ability to burn fat
- In terms of exercise, caffeine can increase your body’s use of fat as fuel to burn
- It keeps the glucose store in your muscle to last longer, meaning your muscles can go longer in exercise before becoming tired
- Those drinking 1-4 cups of coffee a day are less likely to develop heart disease
- Drinking 2-4 cups of green tea or coffee every day shows a lower risk for stroke
- Drinking coffee regularly lowers your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Drinking decaffeinated coffee also lowers your risk for diabetes
- Drinking coffee reduces the risk of liver damage
- One cup of coffee itself contains vitamin B12, vitamin B5, vitamin B3, manganese, potassium and coffee is also high in antioxidants
- Regular coffee consumption can also lower your risk of premature death
- Caffeine can put you in a better mood, lower your chances of becoming depressed, and increase your brain function
- Drinking up to 4 cups of coffee a day can reduce your risk of developing liver, colorectal, and skin cancers
- Drinking 4 cups of coffee a day also significantly reduces your risk for developing gout
- 3 or more cups of coffee a day can increase the good kind of bacteria in your gut
As we have outlined the many benefits of caffeine, there are some negative risks that everyone should be aware of:
- Regular caffeine consumption is safe, but can become habit forming (addicting)
- Consuming a lot of caffeine can trigger a compound called kynurenine that can cause anxiety
- Caffeine can have a negative effect when mixed with some of the medications you take
- Caffeine can also cause trouble falling asleep, an irregular heartbeat, restlessness, and certain tremors in some people
- Pregnant women do not need to consume more than 200 mg of caffeine per day, as it can cause miscarriage or low birth weight in infants
Like the vast majority of people, my day ALWAYS begins at my coffee maker. No coffee, no productivity in my world. Whatever forms of caffeine you consume, always make sure you do so within the realms of what your doctor says is best for you and your situation. One thing is certain for me now, I feel a lot better about my daily morning coffee ritual. Enjoy your favorite cup of whatever beverage you choose, and be thankful for a world in which we have so many good choices!
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