Each and every day, you awake with purpose.
Each and every day, you have a job to do, no matter how mundane you may feel such tasks may be.
And, if you’re like millions of people all across the globe, you greet each of your days, and each job or task…with coffee!
Sure, we love the bold flavors and heavenly aromas of our preferred brew, but we also love the boost it gives us, in the morning and all throughout the day with our second and third (or more) cups.
The thing is, that boost we get from coffee is due to caffeine. And, like each one of you, caffeine also has a purpose, a job to do, if you will.
Of course, we love the task and purpose of caffeine when it comes to waking us up in the morning, giving us that push we need to face the day with confidence.
But, if we really examined caffeine’s job or function, what would we find?
For all the positive aspects of caffeine, are there any negatives to consider when it comes to your health?
Here, we’d like to look at both, the positives and the negatives, the pros and the cons of caffeine.
Before we get into a caffeine pro and con comparison, we’re all going to caffeine college, discovering all there is to know about this stimulant.
First off, yes, caffeine is a stimulant. No worries though, we’re not talking about a manufactured stimulant here as the caffeine in coffee is completely natural.
Caffeine is actually found in differing amounts all throughout the coffee plant. It serves to aid the plant both by attracting pollinators and deterring specific insects and animals that would otherwise be detrimental to the plant.
But, the greatest concentration of caffeine in the coffee plant is found in the seed of the coffee cherry, which we commonly know to be called the coffee bean.
On average, an 8 ounce cup of coffee contains 95 mg of caffeine, and a single shot of espresso contains roughly 64 mg of caffeine.
As you enjoy your cup of coffee, or shot of espresso, the caffeine in your preferred brew soon makes its way to your gut where it is easily absorbed into your bloodstream.
Once in the bloodstream, caffeine is broken down by your liver into compounds which have varying effects on how your organs function.
The most notable effects of caffeine pertain to your central nervous system, primarily your brain.
Caffeine is considered a psychoactive substance as it stimulates your central nervous system by blocking a neurotransmitter in your brain called adenosine.
Adenosine works by relaxing your brain, which makes you feel tired or drowsy.
Throughout the day, the levels of adenosine can accumulate in your brain, making you feel increasingly tired.
And, what do we often do when we start to feel sleepy amidst our busy days? We reach for caffeine!
The caffeine we consume then connects to adenosine receptors in the brain without activating them, blocking their intended function, and keeping you from feeling their effects (sleepiness).
However, while your brain is the primary target of caffeine’s functional abilities, as this organ is part of the central nervous system, the effects there ripple throughout your entire body.
So, the important question at this point is: what are those effects, and do they benefit your body or bring detriment to its function?
How Does Caffeine Benefit Your Health And Wellbeing?
Being classified as a stimulant, even a psychoactive substance, caffeine can come with some worrisome connotations. However, there’s actually a lot of ways this substance can bring great benefits to your body!
In fact, many of the healthy benefits of coffee come from its caffeine content.
1- Boost Brain Function
Since we just learned that caffeine’s primary effects revolve around the function of your brain, we’ll start here and dive a bit deeper.
When caffeine blocks adenosine, as we mentioned above, this causes a chain reaction whereby levels of other molecules tasked with signaling throughout the brain begin to increase.
These changes that take place, blocking adenosine and increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, are then thought to benefit your brain, evidenced in the following ways:
- Improved alertness
- Better short-term recall
- Faster reaction times
- Decreased risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and general cognitive decline
2- Improved Mood
The limbic system is responsible for controlling your mood, even your overall mental wellbeing, and this system is housed within your brain, the area where caffeine’s function is most concentrated.
As we learned above, caffeine works to block adenosine thereby increasing dopamine levels in the brain.
Dopamine is often referred to as the happy hormone as this chemical helps you feel good. It is said to be the “primary driver of the brain’s reward system, [spiking] when we experience something pleasurable.”
Even in the absence of such pleasurable experiences, caffeine causes spikes in dopamine which has led to this stimulant being associated with the ability to improve mood, even lowering the risk of depression and suicide in some individuals.
3- Improves Athletic Performance
As caffeine helps you fight feelings of fatigue, you may find that you can push through a little longer and a tad harder during tough workouts.
This is made possible through the ways this stimulant improves muscle contractions and increases your body’s ability to use fat as fuel.
When your body uses fat for fuel, the glucose stored within your muscles prolongs fatigue, delaying the amount of time it takes for those muscles to reach the point of exhaustion.
Even your body’s perception of how caffeine affects athletic performance can aid your workouts, making your sweat sessions feel less intense than they really are.
Across multiple studies, the effects of caffeine regarding athletic performance were evidenced in team sports, weight training, and HIIT.
4- Potential Headache Relief
Some folks report reductions in headaches when consuming caffeine.
And, this is largely thought to be due to caffeine’s ability to both restrict blood flow and cause a narrowing of blood vessels.
At the onset of a headache, your blood vessels tend to enlarge, and caffeine’s ability to combat this can potentially reduce both the occurrence and severity of a headache.
Some medications targeting headache relief actually contain caffeine for this very reason.
5- Positive Effects On Metabolism And Fat Burning
As caffeine stimulates your central nervous system, this has a positive effect on your metabolism, increasing it by up to 11%.
This stimulation is thought to increase fat burning by 13% as well.
And, these effects occur as caffeine plays a role in stimulating thermogenesis, causing your body to generate a greater amount of heat and energy as you digest your food.
Caffeine can even suppress your appetite, and these combined benefits are why it’s often touted for its benefits in weight loss.
6- Improves Liver And Colon Health
Caffeine consumption works to stimulate the gastrocolic reflex, essentially causing muscle contractions in your colon, promoting healthy bowel movements.
Some claim that caffeine enemas can increase levels of glutathione to support your body’s natural liver detoxification abilities.
And, coffee has long been known to lower the risk of fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver, as well as liver cancer, with these benefits likely being attributed to its caffeine content.
7- May Protect Against Heart Disease
Another benefit of coffee centers around heart health, and researchers believe they’ve narrowed this reward to caffeine as well.
Caffeine (evidenced in both coffee drinkers and those who consume green tea) seems to be the culprit in studies where participants lowered their risk of heart disease by 16-18% and reduced their risk of stroke by 14-20%.
8- Diabetes Prevention
As some research suggests caffeine may prevent diabetes, scientists believe the connection is attributed to cafestol, a bioactive compound found in coffee, rather than caffeine itself.
Even still, studies concentrating on diabetes risk reduction have shown a 12-14% decreased risk in individuals for every 200 mg of caffeine they consumed.
Cons Of Caffeine Consumption
Unfortunately, for all its benefits, caffeine, like most things in life, does have a tipping point, where too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.
And, for some individuals, there’s not even a tipping point, as any amount of caffeine consumed can have negative effects on the body.
Generally speaking, the healthy range for caffeine consumption peaks at around 500 mg, which translates to roughly 5 cups of coffee. However, some people may find they can tolerate more, and others may find this stimulant negatively affects their body even in smaller doses.
The negative effects of caffeine include the following:
We’ll start with somewhat of a side note, as this con doesn’t pertain specifically to caffeine.
The problem here is that most caffeinated beverages either contain added sugars or folks find that they like to add to their caffeine both sugar and other products that can negatively affect their health.
Too much sugar, even the use of some sugar substitutes can cause weight gain, poor dental hygiene, an increase in cholesterol, even inflammation throughout the body.
When consuming caffeine, seek to keep the addition of sugar to a minimum, even when using natural sources.
This one’s a toss up.
Some experts believe caffeine acts as a diuretic, increasing the risk of dehydration upon consumption. However, others have found the diuretic effects of caffeine to be mild, even when increasing the amount of caffeine consumed in a day.
The take home here?
First, let’s hope that caffeinated beverages aren’t the only beverages you’re consuming in a day. In other words, as Tony Horton likes to say, “drink your water, people.”
Second, if you find that caffeine consumption is greatly increasing your need to urinate, seek to cut back a bit, and compensate with healthy liquids (water).
*An increased need for urination may also be the sign of other health complications.
As caffeine is a stimulant, it can be habit forming.
Here, the benefits caffeine can have on your brain, can also work in a negative manner when it comes to addiction, as over time your body is tricked into thinking it needs caffeine to produce the happy hormones associated with increased energy and improved mood.
When caffeine is consumed in large amounts over a long period of time, addiction can occur, even leaving consumers to experience withdrawal symptoms when abstaining, such as headaches, fatigue, irritability, cravings, low energy, and more.
4- Complications In Pregnancy
Because caffeine is absorbed into the bloodstream, in pregnancy it can cross the placenta, increasing the risk of miscarriage, causing abnormal fetal heart rate, and low birth weight.
Limiting the intake of caffeine during pregnancy is often advised for this very reason.
Even after birth, when breastfeeding, caffeine can transfer from the mother’s milk to the baby, resulting in jitters and trouble sleeping.
Most health care professionals recommend keeping caffeine consumption at less than 200 mg daily while pregnant.
5- Increased Heart Rate
The jitters that can transfer to the baby through breastfeeding can also happen to anyone consuming caffeine. This is often linked to the stimulant’s potential ability to cause an increase in heart rate.
Generally this effect occurs in individuals consuming too much caffeine, followed by or including symptoms of dizziness, restlessness, and tremors.
However, some people may find they are particularly sensitive to caffeine, making these effects possible even with minimal consumption.
And, as caffeine can cause small increases in blood pressure, those individuals with high blood pressure may need to cut back or speak with their health care provider regarding the effects of caffeine on any pre-existing conditions.
6- Increased Anxiety
The above negative effects of caffeine can also cause increased feelings of anxiety. Likewise, those already suffering anxiety disorders may find that caffeine exacerbates these symptoms.
In instances of caffeine induced anxiety, you may experience:
- Rapid heart rate
7- Sleep Disturbances
Caffeine’s ability to keep you feeling alert can obviously work in a negative manner when you want to sleep.
It can also reset your body’s circadian clock, disrupting your body’s ability to know when it’s time to go to sleep.
This can delay the onset of sleep by disrupting melatonin production as well as disturb one’s quality of sleep, potentially leading to insomnia.
8- Hormonal Disturbances
Caffeine can cause the adrenal glands to increase production of epinephrine and norepinephrine. In time, with continual caffeine consumption, your adrenal glands can thus become weak.
This weakening of the adrenal glands is why some people who often endure high levels of stress find they eventually become sensitive to caffeine.
Some studies have also revealed caffeine to increase levels of testosterone and estradiol, which may lead to hormonal imbalances and complications.
So, what’s a coffee lover to do?
Coffee naturally contains caffeine. You love coffee. You love caffeine’s benefits to your body, but you want to avoid the potential pitfalls of this stimulant.
The best answer?
- The experts say we actually don’t need caffeine the moment our feet hit the floor upon waking. So, you can delay your morning coffee ritual by roughly one hour, as your body naturally produces cortisol, your resident energy booster.
- Once you do have that first, or second, or third cup of bliss, if you find your body teetering towards reaping the cons of caffeine more so than the pros, switching to decaffeinated coffee either from the start or midway throughout your day can still bring you many of coffee’s benefits without the potential detriments of caffeine (when decaffeinated through clean measures such as the Swiss Water Method).
- If caffeine is disturbing your sleep patterns, be sure to cut back (or switch to decaf) at least six hours prior to bedtime.
And, seek to limit (or potentially avoid) caffeine, if you:
- know yourself to be sensitive to caffeine (likely leading to headaches, shakiness, jitters, anxiety, rapid heart rate, etc)
- are pregnant
- are breastfeeding
- have high blood pressure
- have an arrhythmia
- suffer from a sleep disorder
- are suffering with an anxiety disorder
- are currently taking any medications notably disrupted by the consumption of caffeine