How bad is caffeine for you, really?
Caffeine is a substance that is commonly used by so many people, for so many reasons: To boost energy, to increase focus and concentration, to reduce the intensity of a migraine headache, and even socially with people frequenting coffee shops to catch up with friends and dates.
It is often the first thing people drink in the morning, in the afternoon for a boost, over business meetings, breaks, before the gym to boost performance, and more. It is contained in coffee, tea (black and green), soft drinks, cocoa, chocolate, and energy drinks. We all have busy schedules, and try to cram so much into our days, and use caffeine to fuel ourselves. So, how bad is caffeine for you, really?
First, let’s talk about the benefits of caffeine.
- caffeine causes a short term boost in brain function and cognitive function and boosts your focus and concentration by activating the central nervous system. It increases reaction time and vigilance
- caffeine boosts your metabolism and exercise performance
- caffeine counteracts fatigue and give you a short term energy boost
- it promotes a bowel movement by causing a slight irritation of the intestines, thus promoting contraction of the intestines and pushing stool towards the rectum, causing the urge to have a bowel movement
- caffeine contains antioxidants (polyphenols) that are linked to anti-aging, killing cancer cells, and deceased risk of cardiovascular disease
- research has shown that drinking caffeine can decrease risk of Parkinsons, Alzheimers, Liver cancer, cirrhosis, heart failure, and Type 2 Diabetes Mellius.
Although these benefits sounds great, I do not advocate drinking coffee on a regular basis if you don’t enjoy it or if you don’t already drink it.
Now lets talk about the risks of caffeine.
Most of these are linked to a high intake of caffeine, but this is variable according to the person and their sensitivity to caffeine, how quickly their liver metabolizes caffeine, and their tendency to experience anxiety and/or being over stimulated.
- acid reflux and/or increased incidence of stomach ulcers (more likely if coffee is consumed on an empty stomach)
- blood sugar fluctuations (coffee especially can cause blood sugar to drop, causing weakness, shakiness, sugar cravings, etc)
- elevated blood pressure, as well as eye pressure (patients with glaucoma might want to be cautious with how much caffeine they drink)
- insomnia or difficulty sleeping (more so if its consumed later in the day but each patient is individual)
- heart palpitations
- anxiety, active mind, tremors, jitters
- addiction and withdrawal symptoms (headaches, fatigue, brain fog, irritability, poor concentration)
- increased risk of bone fractures (due to leaching of calcium from the bones)
Again these symptoms tend to be linked to higher consumption of caffeine (400 mg per day or more), depending on the person.
If coffee is your caffeinated beverage of choice, I think a good guideline is to drink a maximum of 2 cups of coffee, and always with a protein rich meal to minimize blood sugar drops. Avoid drinking coffee on an empty stomach (unless you are prone to constipation and you don’t have issues with acid reflux or ulcers). Always eat a protein rich breakfast/meal with your coffee.
If you prefer tea to coffee, you have more leeway with the number of cups of tea you drink because tea contains less caffeine per cup than coffee (depending on what you are drinking and how it is prepared). Tea contains approximately 10-50 mg of caffeine. Green tea has many health benefits as well.
If you need more than a couple of caffeinated drinks per day, root causes of fatigue need to be addressed (diet, stress, amount of sleep etc.) Small amounts of caffeine are fine, but if you are needing it consistently for energy or focus, and are becoming dependent, then it becomes an issue and we look deeper and for better options for energy and focus such as protein intake, exercise, stress levels, vitamins, herbs, etc.
Monitor what you are putting in your caffeine as the calories from milk, cream, sugar, honey, and other syrups can add up. When I try to minimize my sugar/honey I will drink my coffee with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top for flavour.
Caffeine is thought to have a diuretic effect so drink one cup of water per cup of coffee that is consumed.
In addition, black tea contains tannins, which block iron absorption so be cautious if you are iron deficient. If you have high cholesterol levels, try to drink paper filtered coffee, and this will filter the cholesterol out of your coffee.
I think it is all about balance. I love my coffee and tea! But I minimize my servings to a maximum of two per day, and I never go to caffeine containing drinks to quench my thirst, I will always drink a glass of water first. I think at that level, I am enjoying a beverage that I love, without any adverse health effects. For my personally, if I drink more than that, I start to experience blood sugar drops that make me feel shaky and then I need to eat sugar to feel better. Some patients cannot consume any coffee, and prefer black tea and green tea.
I hope this blog helps give you some information on a very commonly enjoyed substance!
Naturopathic Vitality Acupuncture and Wellness Clinic
205-5403 Crowchild Trail NW, Calgary, AB
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