Is caffeine good or bad for you?

Caffeine in the form of coffee and tea is practically a universal diet staple. Caffeine may also be present in soft drinks, energy drinks, gum and some medications. From a scientific perspective, caffeine has a “multidirectional influence on various organs of the body, meaning it can be both good and bad. So is caffeine a boon or a bust?

Well, the answer lies in finding the middle ground. When it comes to caffeine and how much we consume, it all comes down to moderation. 

The Benefits of Caffeine

In moderate doses (40-200 mg) caffeine acts within the brain to decrease fatigue, increase alertness and decrease reaction time. It can have the added benefit of acting as an appetite suppressant, which could lead to a reduction in weight gain. Even more impressively, in some studies moderate doses of caffeine have been associated with decreased risk of depression and suicide. 

More recent studies have shown decreased mortality associated with drinking two to five standard cups of caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee per day (even decaf has a small amount of caffeine). In some reports, regular consumption of caffeinated drinks — particularly caffeinated coffee — has also been associated with a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes and endometrial, liver and gallbladder cancers. One study in particular found that consumption of caffeinated coffee has been associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease and liver cirrhosis. And finally, some studies report that regular consumption of caffeine can help slow the generation of amyloid beta plaques associated with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Caffeine’s Drawbacks

So if caffeine has all of these beneficial effects on our bodies, why the constant griping about needing to drink less coffee? Part of the problem lies with our understanding of terms like “drug” or “stimulant,” and their negative connotations. Yes, caffeine is technically both of those things. Many people even consider themselves “addicted” to coffee. However, in recent years, researchers have come to agree that regular caffeine consumption is more of a habit, by definition, than an addiction. Quitting abruptly may result in withdrawal symptoms like headache, fatigue and depressed mood, but these symptoms usually peak after one to two days and then commonly dissipate. 

Caffeine’s bad reputation might also have to do with the fact that some people are more sensitive to its effects and report feeling jittery, restless or anxious. These symptoms — along with headaches, insomnia, nervousness, irritability and frequent urination — can also occur if you drink too much coffee, which is generally more than four cups a day.

Caffeine can be dangerous when you consume large amounts, which is considered around 1,200 milligrams (roughly 12 cups of coffee), or if you have an underlying condition that prohibits caffeine. While it would take some effort to drink 12 cups in one go, the development of unregulated energy drinks or dietary supplements has made high caffeine consumption more common than you might think. 

The Bottom Line

For healthy adults, the FDA says 400 milligrams a day — about four or five cups of coffee — is not generally associated with dangerous or negative effects. This means most of us can go ahead and savor that eye-opening first sip of hot, steaming Joe without any lingering concern. 

Top image: © limpido from Getty Images Pro, via Canva.com


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