The Health Benefits of Caffeine (Coffee, Tea)

The Health Benefits of Caffeine (Coffee, Tea)

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Caffeine is everywhere. It’s in your coffee, soda, tea and other drinks. It’s in a pill form for those of you who don’t like to drink your caffeine. It’s the most socially accepted stimulant in the world and thus is the most consumed. Many people drink caffeine without knowing how it affects their body and what risks and benefits it has. I’m going to summarize that information for you and provide some good information and resources for you to reference.

Some general facts about caffeine. As many as 90% of adults get some form of caffeine in their diet and about 150 million Americans drink coffee on a daily basis. Men are more likely to drink coffee than women. 71% of coffee consumption occurs in the developed world. Tea consumption in the US is on the rise. Tea is also preferred over coffee in developing countries, particularly parts of South America and Asia.

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Caffeinated soft drink consumption is also on the rise, especially in children. There has been a rise in consumption and reports of caffeine toxicity from abusing energy drinks in recent years. Safe levels of caffeine consumption in children and adolescents has not been established but is presumed to be lower than in adults.

The following is a list of different effects caffeine has on your body.

Alertness. Many studies have established that caffeine consumption leads to increased alertness, energy, and ability to concentrate. This is particularly true among people who are fatigued or sleep deprived.

Headache. Caffeine has properties that can alleviate or generate headache symptoms. Caffeine has been shown to help alleviate tension or migraine type headaches. Individuals who consume caffeine regularly and then abruptly stop are also at risk to have the so-called rebound headache. This is the most common side effect of caffeine withdrawal.

Psychiatric. Caffeine consumption is associated with anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, irritability, and even panic attacks in healthy volunteers. Whether caffeine causes this is not well understood. It may exacerbate symptoms of individuals who are at risk of anxiety disorders.

Cardiovascular/ Heart. Low-to-moderate habitual consumption of caffeine may reduce the risk of having a heart attack. Consumption of heavy amounts of caffeine, intermittent use or people who are slow metabolizers and thus more susceptible to it’s effects may actually increase their risk of a heart attack.

Diabetes. Caffeine reduces the risk of developing diabetes. In fact, decaffeinated coffee is associated with lower HbA1c concentrations.

Constipation. Coffee may or may not decrease the likelihood of constipation. In other words, it may or may not loosen your bowels up. It is the experience of this author that it does ;)

Liver disease. Coffee consumption has been shown to decrease the incidence of liver cirrhosis and slow the progression of hepatitis C.

Cancer Risk

  • Breast - The studies have given mixed results, no established or known benefit at this time
  • Lung - Caffeinated coffee may increase your risk of lung cancer slightly, although the authors of that study suggest that result should be interpreted with caution.
  • Gastrointestinal - Reduced risk, especially throat and liver cancer.
  • Endometrial - Reduced risk
  • Ovarian - No known association with coffee or caffeine consumption.
  • Bladder - One study found a slightly increased risk, but it was not related to dose and appears to be associated with smoking, similar to lung cancer.
  • Prostate - Reduced risk.

Osteoporosis. May be associated with a lower bone mineral density and increased risk of fracture among women, especially those with poor calcium intake.

Arthritis. No known association with rheumatoid arthritis. However, it has been shown to have a strong protective effect against gout and elevated uric acid levels.

Urinary Frequency and Incontinence. Increases urinary frequency and volume. May exacerbate symptoms of urge incontinence.

Other Protective Effects

  • Decreases risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease.
  • May decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.

Athletic Performance

This has been extensively studied and shown to improve performance across a wide variety of activities. Caffeine has been shown improve strength performance, high intensity cardio and aerobic exercise. Significant performance increases were noted at 2.5 mg/kg to 5 mg/kg. Caffeine is also associated with increasing the bodies responsiveness to testosterone, circulating sex hormone binding globulin, and circulating cortisol.

Overall Mortality

Multiple studies have shown that increasing coffee consumption is associated with a decrease in overall mortality (death). Essentially, these studies suggest that there is a protective effect on coffee consumption. When comparing coffee drinkers to those who do not drink coffee, the risk of death was lower in coffee drinkers. This appears to be true among moderate coffee drinkers (2-3 cups/day) as well as heavy coffee drinkers (>6 cups/day)

Caffeine in Pregnancy

Studies regarding the effects of caffeine on fertility and pregnancy have been poor in quality for a variety of reasons. There is evidence that caffeine readily crosses the placenta and can affect fetal heart rate and arousal among other things. There is are no uniform guidelines on caffeine consumption in women who are planning to become pregnant or are currently pregnant. Most professional organizations recommend keeping consumption below 200-300 mg/day.

Caffeine abuse, dependence and withdrawal

Caffeine was not previously considered a drug of abuse or dependence because clinical indicators of abuse and dependence were not well established in literature. In the DSM 5, the American Psychiatric Association formally included caffeine dependence as a diagnosis because a withdrawal syndrome is well documented.

Symptoms of withdrawal are essentially the opposite of what you experience when you consume caffeine. This includes tiredness, fatigue, decreased energy and alertness, drowsiness, decreased mood and irritability among other symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms occur within 24 hours, peak at 1-2 days and can last up to 7-10 days. Withdrawing from caffeine is not lethal.

Sources of caffeine

The most common sources of caffeine are coffee and tea. Other sources one can consider are cocoa (chocolate), guarana, yerba mate, kola nut. It can also be found in some over-the-counter pain relievers and diet pills.

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