Caffeine is consumed in many forms around the world yet questions remain about its health benefits

The World’s Most Popular Drug: Caffeine

CAFFEINE IS CONSUMED IN MANY FORMS AROUND THE WORLD YET QUESTIONS REMAIN ABOUT ITS HEALTH BENEFITS

This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

Have you had your first cup of coffee yet today? If so then you’ve ingested about 100 mg of caffeine. If you’re on your second or third cup of coffee, you’re close to the recommended upper limit for daily caffeine consumption. For many that leads to a love-hate relationship with all things caffeine. People love the way they feel when they have and hate the way they feel when they don’t.

But is caffeine really that bad for us?

Caffeine has been in our diets since the first cup of tea was sipped in China in 10th century BC. Since then, the history of the world can be traced to the distribution of caffeine-rich tea from Asia, coffee beans from Africa and cocoa from South America. Today caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world.

To help you deal with your caffeine habit, I’ve prepared a Q/A to report on the latest research.

Are there any health benefits to caffeine?

Yes, caffeine is an antioxidant and helps fight the free radicals found in the body that attack healthy cells and cause disease. The anti-inflammatory effects of caffeine also improve immune function and caffeine can help with allergic reactions by its anti-histamine action.

Does caffeine increase the risk for heart disease?

No, several large studies found no link between caffeine and elevated cholesterol levels or increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Caffeine does cause a temporary rise in blood pressure in those who are sensitive to it, but more research is need to determine if it increases the risk for stroke in people who have hypertension.

Can caffeine cause osteoporosis?

No, not if there is adequate calcium in the diet. Consuming more than 700 mg a day may increase calcium losses in urine, but adding one ounce of milk to a cup of coffee will replace these losses.

Is caffeine a diuretic?

Yes, caffeine will increase the need to urinate, but it does not lead to excessive fluid losses. The amount excreted is not greater than the amount of fluid contained in the caffeine-containing beverage consumed.

Is the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee always the same?

No, the amount can differ widely from cup to cup brewed from the same brand and among different brands. Even decaffeinated coffee contains some caffeine.

Are there any groups that should limit their intake of caffeine?

Yes, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists pregnant women should have no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day, or the amount of caffeine in about 12 ounces of coffee. Women who drink larger amounts than that appear to have an increased risk of miscarriage compared to moderate drinkers and non-drinkers.

Is caffeine safe for children?

Yes, in moderation. Studies suggest that children can consume up to 300 mg of caffeine a day, although some children may be more sensitive than others its stimulant effects. The introduction of energy drinks containing caffeine has made it easier for children to get more than they should.

Are coffee and tea the main sources of caffeine in the diet?

Yes, but other sources include cola beverages, chocolate, energy drinks, over-the-counter pain relievers, cold medicines, and some “diet” pills.

Is caffeine addictive?

Maybe, depending on how you define addictive. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and can cause mild physical dependence if used regularly. If you stop consuming it you may experience withdrawal symptoms including headache, anxiety, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. It does not, however, interfere with your physical, social or economic well-being the way additive drugs do.

When did you first experience the effects of caffeine?

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