Ah, Our Beloved Caffeine: Is It Good or Bad for You?
One of the most popular beverages in the world is coffee, with about 80% of the world’s population consuming some form of caffeine every day. If you narrow that down to North America, that statistic jumps up to 90%. That’s quite a bit of caffeine consumption, my friend. And for good reason!
For many of us coffee lovers, that reason is very simple: we love a great cup of coffee, and the aroma it offers as the brewing process happens is just short of heavenly. It’s as simple as that. Well, the little jolt of the caffeine wake-me-up is nice, too.
Caffeine offers a variety of health benefits: it increases your focus, provides an energy boost, and can even improve mood. The bad news? It’s not all sunshine and rainbows with caffeine. Here we’ll explore both sides of the coin, caffeine pros and cons, so you can decide whether to drink up or stay away from this caffeinated ‘wonder drug’!
- Ah, Our Beloved Caffeine: Is It Good or Bad for You?
- What is caffeine, anyway?
- Caffeine Pros and Cons
- Is it Better to Live Without Caffeine?
What is caffeine, anyway?
Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and cola. Because it is naturally occurring , these caffeinated beverages are safe for most people when consumed in moderation.
The stimulating effects of caffeine can be traced back to its ability to block the action of a chemical in the brain called adenosine. What does adenosine do? It blocks receptor cells in your brain, and it’s these receptors which cause you to feel tired. So when you have caffeine in your system you’re less likely to feel tired, and may even feel stimulated to keep on going. That is what many caffeine fiends are after…that extra jolt of energy.
Caffeine also stimulates the production of adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine – all hormones associated with pleasure or happiness. So not only does caffeine make us more alert, but we also get that “feel good” feeling too.
Where can caffeine be found?
Caffeine is found naturally in seeds, nuts, and also in the leaves of some plants. Coffee is a seed, tea is created from leaves, chocolate starts its sweet little life as a nut (the nut is called a cocoa bean to confuse us), and cola contains ingredients from the kola nut, with the original drink containing coca leaves.
Take a peek at the list below to see how much caffeine is typically ingested with popular beverages. We’ll assume 8 ounces of each:
- Coffee: 102-200 mg
- Brewed Tea: 40 – 120 mg
- Chocolate Milk: 2 – 7 mg
- Espresso: 240 – 720 mg
- Energy Drinks: 50 – 160 mg
- Soft Drinks: 20 – 40 mg
Caffeine Pros and Cons
Are there benefits to caffeine?
Let’s consider some of the positive effects of caffeine.
It stimulates the central nervous system by blocking adenosine receptors. Adenosine slows down neurological activity, but caffeine blocks these receptors. This means that neural communication is sped up and stimulated.
This causes a release of adrenaline into the bloodstream; in turn, this boosts energy levels and speeds up your metabolism so you can burn more calories throughout the day. Therefore, it’s possible that caffeine could help contribute to weight loss.
Caffeine improves concentration and focus by crossing the blood-brain barrier, which leads to an increase in neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. This has been shown to help people with ADHD focus on tasks for longer periods of time than usual.
How does caffeine boost mood? When caffeine blocks adenosine, a brain-signaling molecule, it results in an increase in other molecules like dopamine and norepinephrine. The changes brought about in these signals to your brain are thought to benefit your mood.
Does caffeine make you more alert?
Caffeine is a stimulant, and will have an effect on your brain’s neurotransmitters to keep you alert; however, the effects are short-lived as caffeine usually leaves your system within four hours of consumption. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, is it? Most of us, as we age, find that our caffeine consumption cut-off time gets earlier and earlier, as we don’t want those stimulant effects to keep us awake at night.
Can caffeine help you perform better in sports or when exercising?
Well, yes, it can, says the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Caffeine has been shown to improve endurance levels and resistance to fatigue. And, caffeine stimulates the body to use fat stores instead of muscle glycogen (aka sugar) during longer workouts.
So, go ahead and enjoy your cup of coffee or tea before exercising. You might find that you can work out longer!
Does caffeine help burn calories?
Consuming caffeine will place it in your bloodstream in about 15 minutes, and there’s a good chance you’ll feel energetic and ready to get some exercise. Your blood pressure elevates, your heart rate increases, the fat stores are broken down, and that’s why you’ll probably be able to burn more calories. And, research has shown that caffeine helps to provide fat burning benefits for several hours following exercise.
So if you are already a coffee, tea, or other type of caffeine-consuming person, think about consuming the caffeine prior to exercising or when you know you’ll need an energy boost.
A word of caution, though, and here it is: More is not necessarily better. Don’t assume that if one cup of coffee will help energize you, that five cups of coffee at one sitting will keep you going five times longer. Stick with what you typically drink, my friend, and you’ll be much more likely to reap the benefits without negative side effects.
What are the cons of caffeine?
So, to cover both sides of caffeine pros and cons, let’s review some of the downsides of caffeine.
How does the consumption of caffeine make us anxious? Caffeine can increase anxiety because it forces the body to produce adrenaline. Adrenaline is a hormone and neurotransmitter that can cause increased heart rate, fast breathing, sweating, headaches or migraines, shaking hands/tremors, nausea/diarrhea.
Consuming large amounts of caffeine every day can also contribute to paranoia, or increase symptoms in someone who already suffers from a psychotic disorder. For most of us, though, the caution is to be aware of how much coffee (or other caffeinated beverages) we’re consuming and how it is affecting us.
Caffeine can cause an increase in the risk of seizures when taken in high doses or when mixed with certain medications. So it is always prudent to check with your doctor before consuming caffeine if you are taking medication.
Caffeine also increases blood pressure and heart rate, so if you know that your blood pressure is high, or have had heart issues in the past, be sure to monitor your reaction to that cup of coffee or tea. Maintaining your health is at the top of the list!
Can caffeine cause dehydration?
Coffee may be a contributor to dehydration, but the effect is minimal. Coffee’s diuretic properties may cause one to urinate more, and thus lose water weight in urine; however, this loss of fluids would be offset by increased fluid intake from drinking coffee.
Can you become addicted to caffeine?
It is possible to become addicted to caffeine, but it’s not a high-risk addiction. Caffeine withdrawal symptoms include headaches and drowsiness. The severity of the withdrawal depends on how much coffee you drink and when your last cup was consumed; if you’re drinking four or more cups per day, then there are signs that may tell you it’s time to cut back.
Is it Better to Live Without Caffeine?
Now that you’ve learned more about the pros and cons of caffeine consumption, what do you think? Some people choose to eliminate caffeine intake totally in order to reduce the effects of the stimulant on their body.
As we’ve discussed, caffeine can produce a variety of side effects such as increased heart rate, anxiety or nervousness, headaches, problems with sleep quality among other things.
If you’ve been drinking coffee, tea, or other beverage containing caffeine and found that your body is reacting in a negative way, then it may be time to try living without caffeine. See how your body and system react to a diet without any caffeinated beverages or food.
If insomnia is something that you struggle with, eliminating the caffeine intake could help you sleep better.
However, when you live a healthy, active lifestyle, then the benefits of caffeine can outweigh any side effects that are experienced in moderation.
Candi Randolph is a coffee lover, blogger, and content creator who loves to share her knowledge with the coffee-drinking world. You’ll often find her tending to her coffee bar at home, deciding which method to use to brew her next cup of java. Life is full of important decisions. ☕