Fact vs Fiction: How Caffeine Affects Your Health
There’s a lot of competing information out there about caffeine and its effects on the body. Depending on who you ask, it’s either a wonder drug that can cure everything or a destructive and harmful substance you should never consume.
With so much information vying for our attention, it’s difficult to suss out the truth. Here are the facts about how caffeine really affects your health.
How Much Do You Consume?
The first thing you need to understand to truly appreciate how caffeine affects your body is the amount you are consuming. This can vary wildly depending on what you drink and how much you drink.
Coffee is the obvious culprit when it comes to caffeine, but tea also contains a fair amount. Even green tea contains 20 to 45 milligrams per 8-ounce cup, a fairly small amount compared to the 95 milligrams in an 8-ounce cup of coffee. However, caffeine can also show up in soda, energy drinks, or pills. And nearly all of us (80%) are consuming some form of caffeine every day.
Benefits of Caffeine
So are those cups of coffee and tea helping or hurting? Well, that depends.
Caffeine can certainly have some strong benefits. A recent study showed that three to five cups of coffee per day was helpful in preventing cognitive decline, resulting in a 65% decrease in cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Caffeine may also have a positive impact on your mood. One study said caffeine could even lower suicide risk and depression. It may do this by blocking the brain signaling molecule adenosine and conversely boosting other molecules like dopamine and norepinephrine. This combination could give us a major mood boost.
Here’s a particularly surprising benefit: Caffeine may even help with hair loss. Caffeine may limit damage to hair strands and help support hair with nutrients and vitamins. And that’s a big deal. About 47% of people suffering from hair loss said they would spend their life savings to get their hair back.
If you’re passionate about getting your exercise in every day, caffeine can be a big help. Caffeine helps our bodies use fat as the fuel for our workouts, keeping us from getting exhausted and giving us a boost. Caffeine could help improve endurance, allowing for higher-intensity workouts. And it doesn’t seem to take much caffeine to get these benefits, either.
Speaking of getting our heart rates up, caffeine can boost heart health as well. Studies show that caffeine may actually lower the risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 20%.
The benefits don’t stop there. Here are some additional positive health impacts of caffeine:
- Lower risk of developing certain types of cancer, including skin, liver and colorectal cancer
- Improved gut health
- Reduced risk of liver damage
- Reduced risk of developing multiple sclerosis
- Reduced risk of developing gout
More research needs to be done, as many of the benefits listed above may be linked to other substances in coffee and not just the caffeine itself. There is a lot more in our morning cup than just caffeine, so keep that in mind when weighing positives and negatives.
Downsides of Caffeine
But caffeine is not a pure wonder drug. There are certainly downsides, especially if people are consuming too much caffeine.
Over-consumption of caffeine can have harmful health impacts. Too much caffeine can lead to anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues, muscle breakdown, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, fatigue, and addiction. Although a caffeine addiction may not be as severe as an addiction to alcohol, which is one of the most commonly abused substances in America, your body can still exhibit withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly don’t consume caffeine. These symptoms often include headaches, irritability, and fatigue among others.
Children are especially vulnerable to the side effects of caffeine because they are still developing and are more susceptible to health issues like the common cold, which the CDC says accounts for 22 million missed school days annually. This is why it is important that you never let kids drink coffee and allow them to only have moderate amounts of soda.
The Bottom Line
There are plenty of great things about caffeine. It is a true mood booster that can also have residual benefits for things like our mental functioning and heart health. But like most things in life, you can easily over-indulge. As long as caffeine is treated with moderation, it can be great for our health. So enjoy your coffee or tea without shame and use your energy boosts wisely.