Pure caffeine is a bitter, white, crystalline substance that acts as a stimulant drug. That’s not exactly the kind of ingredient you would want to see listed on the side of a Starbucks coffee mug. Yet caffeine is a big part of our lifestyles, and has recently become an even bigger topic of interest in research studies, which have drawn a wide range of conclusions on its effects. One day caffeine is shown to be a great antioxidant; the next day we’re told to avoid it altogether. The constant debates and studies can cause a great deal of confusion, especially for those of us who are not only concerned about our health, but hate to think of giving up our morning cup of coffee.
Caffeine: The Positive Side
On the plus side, studies have shown that regular consumption of caffeine can reduce the chance of developing Parkinson’s disease. Caffeine has also been linked to protecting the body against gallstones and improving alertness. In addition, it appears to enhance mood, temporarily improve physical stamina, and relieve headaches. These are all benefits that most people would love to enjoy from a common, everyday beverage. Keep in mind, however, that participants in these studies drank 2-3 cups or less of coffee or other caffeinated beverages to yield these positive results. More isn’t necessarily better.
Caffeine: What to Beware Of
On the flip side, caffeine can interfere with certain other aspects of your health. It has been reported that sleep patterns are definitely disturbed when you drink caffeine a few hours before bedtime. That makes sense, of course: if caffeine is meant to keep you alert, then you can probably forget about trying to fall asleep quickly after a cup or two of java. Furthermore, contrary to its reputation, caffeine does not effectively help “wake” us up after a poor night’s sleep or diminish the effects of alcohol. You may feel more alert, but a cup of coffee will not help you drive better or improve your judgment.
Unfortunately, sleep isn’t the only thing that caffeine can disturb. Fertility rates and miscarriages are reported as being negatively impacted by as little as 1 cup of coffee per day. Health Canada states that women who may be trying to conceive should have no more than 300 mg/day of caffeine.
Limiting caffeine intake can be difficult these days because of an explosion of products with caffeine additives. A quick check of grocery shelves will reveal caffeine in energy drinks, in chewing gums, and even in non-consumables such as soap!
Beverage – mg of caffeine
Coffee, generic brewed (8 oz.) – 133 mg
Starbucks Brewed Coffee (Grande – 16 oz.) – 320 mg
Tea, brewed (8 oz.) – 53 mg
Diet Coke (12 oz.) – 47 mg
Dr. Pepper (12 oz.) – 42 mg
Pepsi (12 oz.) – 38 mg
Coca-Cola Classic – 35 mg
Monster Energy (16 oz) – 160 mg
Red Bull (12 oz) – 114 mg
Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest (Sep. 2007)
The Bottom Line
Caffeine is going to continue to be a big topic of interest among researchers and consumers. Many studies indicate that having caffeine in moderation as part of a healthy diet can be beneficial to your health. In excess amounts, caffeine could lead to health concerns, especially for women of child-bearing age and people who have difficulty sleeping. Large studies claim that caffeine is not a significant health concern for people with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure or osteoporosis. A recent large-scale study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in June 2008 found that regular coffee drinkers, especially women, didn’t suffer any negative health effects. However, researchers warned that if you are not a coffee-drinker, the result of this study is not a reason to start drinking it. Check with your family doctor about what’s best for you, and in the meantime remember that moderation is always the key to staying healthy.
Sejal is a registered dietitian, a certified diabetes educator and she holds a masters degree in nutrition and health. Sejal was the project coordinator for the Veteran’s Administrations (VA) national weight loss program and previously worked for the VA hospital in Tampa, FL as a Spinal Cord Injury dietitian.
Sejal has had numerous clinical and community education experiences, including pediatric and intensive care nutrition support. She has also had the opportunity to teach nutrition courses at the community college level to students interested in pursuing health professions. One of her favorite areas of education is diabetes management.