Many of us depend on caffeine, and some people can’t even start the day without it. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, and some medications. The health impact of caffeine is a controversial topic, with advocates touting its brain-boosting capability and positive impact on chronic diseases, while critics warn of side effects including increased heart rate and insomnia. Which side is correct? Read on to find out.
Luckily for us caffeine lovers, the latest research shows more and more beneficial effects. They include:
- Short-term memory boost. Caffeine affects the areas of the brain associated with memory and concentration. While it’s not clear how long this effect lasts, research has shown enhanced memory for up to 24 hours after drinking caffeine, compared to people who did not consume any.
- Protection against degenerative brain diseases. Studies have linked caffeine intake to lower rates of Alzheimer’s, with coffee drinkers having up to a 65% less chance of developing the disease. Caffeine is also associated with decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease, with one showing those that drank four or five cups of coffee per day cut their risk in half.
- A healthier heart. In 2014, researchers analyzed 36 studies and found that people who drank three to five cups of coffee per day had the lowest risk for heart disease. It’s not clear the exact mechanism of this protection, however, most studies used caffeinated coffee. A similar analysis looked at the risk of stroke and also showed that coffee can provide protection against stroke.
- Decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. Over two dozen studies have linked coffee consumption to lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Both regular and decaf coffee showed similar effects, however, there was stronger relationship between caffeinated coffee and lower risk of diabetes.
- Lower rates of depression among women. Depression affects twice as many women as men and is a chronic problem that can last for years. A study published in 2011 found decreased rates of depression among those who drank more caffeinated coffee.
- Enhanced focus and faster reaction time. Caffeine is a natural stimulant which activates our central nervous system. Within 20 minutes of consuming caffeine, you start to feel more alert with a better ability to concentrate, focus and react quickly.
- A better workout. The most widely used stimulant in the world, caffeine has been used as a natural ergogenic aid for years. It can improve endurance, decrease muscle pain, increase the number of calories burned, and can even help you enjoy exercise more.
The potential benefits of caffeine may be many, but that doesn’t mean that more caffeine is better. Caffeine affects people differently, and for those who are more sensitive to it, caffeine may cause anxiety, nervousness, or irritability. Higher doses of caffeine can negatively impact your quality of sleep and can cause insomnia. Caffeine can also raise blood pressure and heart rate. While this isn’t an issue for healthy people, it may be for those with underlying heart or blood pressure problems. If you are consuming more than 500mg per day (the equivalent of three to four cups of brewed coffee) or experiencing any adverse side effects, consider weaning down your caffeine intake. Avoid quitting cold turkey, as this can lead to withdrawal symptoms.
Does the source matter?
In short: yes. While you can get your daily fix from coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, and even chocolate, this doesn’t give you the go ahead to add a daily chocolate bar to your diet (I wish!). Most caffeine research has been done using coffee and tea and while these drinks can provide benefits on their own, adding sugar or fat (in the form of milk or cream) can negate some of the caffeine’s benefits. The same goes for soda and energy drinks: along with caffeine, these beverages contain high amounts of added sugar, which has a host of negative health effects.