Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world.
Around 90% of adults consume caffeine every day in North America alone.
It’s found naturally in coffee, tea, and chocolate, and it’s also added to sodas and energy drinks.
So many of us rely on caffeine to get them through the day, but should we?
Risks of Caffeine
Because it is a stimulant, excess caffeine intake can lead to low quality sleep and restlessness, anxiety, irregular heartbeat, and tremors.
Pregnant women should limit or altogether avoid caffeine. Each additional cup of coffee may increase the risk of delivering low birth weight infants by 13%.
Caffeine can interact with some medications, such as muscle relaxers and antidepressants. Read the warning labels on your medicine or consult your physician to see if it can be safely combined with caffeine.
Daily drinkers of caffeine may experience mild and temporary withdrawal symptoms such as headache, irritability, nervousness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating if they suddenly stop.
Caffeine’s effect on the heart has been debated for years. Some studies show that caffeine can increase the risk of heart disease, while others show no effect or even a protective effect.
According to this research on the relationship between coffee and coronary heart disease concludes:
“This discrepancy could be explained by an acute adverse effect of coffee, rather than a long-term adverse effect. We postulate that coffee drinking may have an acute detrimental effect in triggering coronary events and increasing infarct size in selected patient groups, rather than promoting the development of atherosclerosis in the general population.”
This suggests that coffee, or caffeine, in the short term, can increase blood pressure and possibly trigger a coronary event in patients who are already at risk. Still, it does not appear to contribute to arterial stiffness or chronic heart disease development.
Benefits of Caffeine
Over the long term, daily caffeine, especially green tea, has been linked to decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
The stimulating effects of caffeine can boost alertness, short-term recall, and reaction time. Coffee and tea may also significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
It can uplift mood, decrease depression, and even reduce suicide and suicidal ideation rates.
Caffeine may positively impact sports and exercise performance by improving muscular functions and tolerance to fatigue. And even for non-athletes, it can increase metabolism and stimulate fat burning, though this effect appears to be quite small.
Many other effects have been observed, such as decreased risks to some cancers and improved gut and liver health, but it’s possible this has more to do with the antioxidants and other phytochemicals in tea and coffee rather than the caffeine. More research and analysis are needed in these areas.
Overall, the research that has been done so far suggests that caffeine is safe for most people and can even produce some benefits for our health and wellness.