Caffeine; Friend or Foe?

There has been a lot of coverage over the last 10 years calling to question whether caffeine is beneficial or a detriment to a healthy diet. We hope through reading this article, you will better understand the nature of caffeine and whether or not you should include it in your diet. 

Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world, with around 85% of the American population consuming at least one caffeinated beverage daily, according to a 2014 study1.

It’s worth considering that the popularity of coffee and tea culture has only increased in the following years. 

So, What does Caffeine do?

Caffeine affects the human central nervous system, boosts cognitive performance, increases the perception of alertness and wakefulness, and, depending on the consumer, can cause anxiety symptoms in high or low doses.2

This makes caffeine seemingly the perfect addition to one’s diet in the age of increasing productivity. However, just as a plethora of studies claims the benefits of caffeine, there are just as many highlighting the downsides of caffeine. 

Benefits of Caffeine

Even though there has been such a back and forth over the years regarding caffeine, it’s been widely studied for its benefits to the consumer. The number of studies that state its benefits seems to outweigh the number of studies that claim it is detrimental. 

So here are some of the benefits - keep in mind the majority of these studies refer to coffee rather than simply caffeine. The two are almost synonymous nowadays, except for energy drinks and pre-workout, which we will cover in due course. 

Caffeine Can Aid in the Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes

A 10-year study on habitual coffee consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes found that participants who drank 4 to 6 cups and 6 to 7 cups of coffee a day had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those who had less than 2 cups of coffee a day.3

Caffeine Can Aid in the Prevention of Neurodegenerative Diseases

Multiple sources and studies have concluded that caffeine benefits the brain and can help with and prevent neurodegenerative diseases4 such as Alzheimer’s disease5 and Parkinson’s Disease.6.

It is hypothesised and studied that this is due to the nature of caffeine moving through multiple pathways in the brain and firing receptors. It stimulates the brain in short, meaning that the brain is more active and functioning optimally, reducing the likelihood of these disorders. 

Caffeine Can Prevent Liver Disease

In multiple studies on the potential harms of caffeine on the liver, little to no evidence was found to prove a link. However, what was found was that regular consumption of coffee boasted protective effects against the progression of liver disease and liver cancer.7

However, these readings also cover the fact that several times there have been reports of caffeine in energy drinks causing liver problems and even liver failure. Although caffeine is the main component in energy drinks, there are also added vitamins and other chemicals that can be dangerous in large quantities. 

When consuming coffee, it’s more likely that you are intaking antioxidants and caffeine. So, in these cases, it's best to stick with what you know rather than what you don’t know. 

Energy drinks can often vary in the quality of ingredients. In contrast, bad cheap coffee will often not taste the best but is less likely to damage than a cheap energy drink. 

Caffeine Can Reduce the Likelihood of Heart Failure

This may appear to be the most unlikely benefit to coffee. Most of us know how it feels when we have one too many coffees, and our heart begins to feel like it might jump out of our chests. 

However, a study states that as long as you are within the “sweet spot”, which appears to be 3-4 coffees a day, you are at a much lower risk of coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure and less likely to have a stroke.8

In this way, it appears that caffeine is all about the correct dosage, just as we are all individuals in terms of brain and body chemistry. This much is the same for how much caffeine we need; it becomes hard to measure caffeine as it is in a lot of different things, such as:

  • Green tea 
  • Soft drinks
  • Yerba mate tea 
  • Coffee 
  • Chocolate 
  • Guarana 
  • Energy Drinks 
  • Alcoholic Cocktails 

It becomes hard to know just how much we are intaking. If you are concerned about caffeine intake, you should consult your doctor and see what they say.

However, we recommend sticking to a maximum of four mug-sized (300-330ML) caffeinated beverages daily is the best way to measure without becoming too overly concerned. 

Downsides of Caffeine

Although there appear to be many benefits to consuming caffeine in the correct dosage. There are a few drawbacks of the chemical. These include:

Caffeine and Blood Pressure 

Some studies claim that caffeine can raise an individual's blood pressure, which isn’t false. However, the study also states that this isn’t persistent. Individuals who do not regularly consume caffeine may increase slightly, but tolerance rises quickly, allowing blood pressure to return to a baseline.9

Caffeine and Sleep Quality 

It’s no secret that caffeine can affect sleep. A large percentage of consumers use the chemical for this exact reason, to work long shifts or study late at night. But this can also affect the consumer who is not trying to stay up late. 

Many studies have concluded that caffeine allows individuals to delay sleep and that it also impacts the length of time spent asleep and worsens the individual's perceived sleep quality.10 

There are ways to avoid this. It’s often best to stop consuming caffeine four to six hours before you intend to sleep, as that’s the amount of time it takes your body to metabolise the caffeine you have consumed.11

Caffeine and Anxiety

It’s no secret that caffeine can cause anxiety. It can happen in some circumstances, but caffeine does always cause anxiety-related symptoms. It is most likely people who are predisposed to anxiety that will feel these symptoms.

However, studies state that the threshold of an anxiety attack through caffeine ingestion is over 5 cups of coffee.12 So, if you’re prone to anxiety, it may be best to practice moderation or find an alternative that does not provoke any symptoms.

Caffeine and Addiction

Because caffeine is a stimulant drug, it’s easy to become dependent upon it. Therefore, consumers without caffeine can experience lethargy, sleepiness, restlessness, headaches and mood swings.13,14 However, this is usually in extreme cases. So, practice moderation when consuming caffeine and be aware of your limits. 

Caffeine and Iron Deficiency

There has been recent information and conversation about caffeine and iron deficiency; caffeine can cause iron deficiency.

Polyphenols can attach to iron in food, leading to iron not being absorbed as thoroughly by the individual. However, this is only if coffee or tea is consumed simultaneously as the food. So, to avoid this, have caffeinated beverages and meals separately.15

The Bottom Line

Like the majority of things in the modern age, such as sugary foods, spending money, alcohol, and social media, caffeine is another thing that most people enjoy but is best kept in moderation.

Caffeine can be a fantastic tool for group brainstorming or conversation, hence why coffee shops are a good location for socialising. 

With such a large amount of studies examining the benefits of caffeine, it’s something you don’t need to cut out of your diet unless you feel it isn’t doing you good.

So ensure that you’re drinking your cup of coffee in the morning and that it’s not drinking you. If you are concerned with caffeine intake, make sure you speak to your doctor for advice.

References → 1

1: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2013.10.042

2: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462044/#:~:text=Effects%20on%20the%20Central%20Nervous,cause%20seizures%20and%20cerebral%20vasoconstriction.

3: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22497654/#:~:text=We%20concluded%20that%20habitual%20coffee,than%202%20cups%20per%20day.

4: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6492672/#:~:text=It%20has%20been%20shown%20that,%E2%80%90Joseph%20disease%20(MJD).

5: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22959965/

6: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22855866/

7: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559835/#:~:text=Yet%20despite%20its%20widescale%20use,and%20development%20of%20liver%20cancer.

8: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29474816/

9: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3284502/#:~:text=Initial%20reports%20indicated%20that%20caffeine,persistent%20increase%20in%20blood%20pressure.

10: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26899133/#:~:text=Caffeine%20typically%20prolonged%20sleep%20latency,wakefulness%2C%20and%20arousals%20were%20increased.

11: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much

12: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34871964/

13: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17127537/#:~:text=Some%20have%20argued%20that%20continued,constitute%20a%20reliably%20valid%20syndrome.

14: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430790/

15: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/can-coffee-inhibit-absorption-iron#:~:text=Caffeine%20has%20no%20effect%20on,or%20tea%20with%20a%20meal.

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