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Is Caffeine Bad For You?: Benefits, Risks, and Effects

Coffee is the most popular performance-enhancing drug in the world. More than 40% of the country drinks the equivalent of two cups of coffee a day. With such common use, it is important to stay informed about both the pros and cons of caffeine intake.

Is caffeine bad for you? People drinking coffee high angle.
Coffee Give Us A Boost In Our Energy Levels, Focus, And Improve Our Memory (Image Source: Shutterstock)

We often don’t think twice about the amount of caffeine we consume. And who can blame us? Many of the food and drinks we consume can contain the chemical without us even realizing it. The most common sources of caffeine are coffee, soda, sports drinks, and teas, but there are some surprising sources too. Some pain relievers, weight loss pills, and supplements have a surprising amount of caffeine as well. Quantifying exactly how much we take on a daily basis can be difficult. 

The positive effects of caffeine are well-known. We seek it out primarily to give us a boost in our energy levels, focus, and improve our memory. However, the negative effects are more obscure but equally important because they are wide-ranging. Further complicating things is the fact that effects vary by person and are dose-dependent. March is national caffeine awareness month so it’s the perfect time to explore this substance in detail. Is caffeine bad for you? The answer is not clear cut, but you can make better decisions after learning all the facts. Keep reading to find out more.

Caffeine as a CNS Stimulant

The energy our body uses comes from the food we eat. The body processes food into a sugar called glucose. Our cells break down this sugar into a molecule named adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This molecule serves as an energy currency that is used by the cell to do work. Once a molecule of ATP is used, it is broken down further into adenosine. What makes us feel progressively more tired throughout the day is the buildup of adenosine. This is a wonderful feedback system where adenosine serves as a signal to our bodies that we need to rest. 

Stylish happy young woman wearing bright yellow sweatshirt holding coffee to go.
Caffeine Causes The Release Of Hormones Like Cortisol And Epinephrine (Image Source: Shutterstock)

The brain has areas that regulate our arousal and wakefulness that contain receptors that bind to adenosine. Much like alcohol, adenosine acts as a CNS depressant. Once adenosine builds up, it binds to the receptors and causes a decrease in neural activity. Drowsiness soon follows. Caffeine binds to these same receptors but does not cause a decrease in brain activity. So it blocks the usual effects that lead to sleepiness. In addition, caffeine causes the release of hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. Cortisol increases blood glucose levels. Epinephrine raises blood pressure and increases our heart rate. These hormones activate our fight or flight response and keep us alert and ready to respond to threats.

The stimulant effect of caffeine also helps with weight loss because it promotes the breakdown of fat. In fact, studies have shown that it can boost our metabolic rate by up to 13%. These effects are especially relevant if you’re trying to lose the quarantine 15. Since it primes our body for physical exertion, caffeine also helps make workouts easier. Taking some before a workout could help prevent muscle fatigue and improve endurance. If you want a better workout without the jolt, a good pre-workout snack may help.

Is Coffee Bad For You? Disease and Illness Prevention Benefits Say Otherwise

Now that you understand how caffeine works as a stimulant, you may be wondering what other benefits it may have. It seems to play a role in preventing certain diseases. This effect may also be due to other substances found in coffee like antioxidants and polyphenols.

Health Benefits and Side Effects of Caffeine | Coffee, Tea and Pre Workout Supplements – Vegan Fit

The two most common degenerative diseases affecting the brain are Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Studies have shown that coffee drinkers have a 65% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Interestingly, in the case of Parkinson’s disease, a similar risk reduction was not found in people who drank decaf.

The protective effects extend to areas outside the brain. Caffeine seems to contribute to good liver health in particular. Heavy drinkers or other populations susceptible to cirrhosis may prevent onset by including caffeine in their diets. Intake is also inversely proportional to liver cancer risk  People who drank two to three cups a day reduced their risk by 38%. Those who drank four or more reduced their risk by 40%.

All the benefits outlined above may make it seem like consuming caffeine should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. It’s a good idea to limit your daily intake to less than 300mg. The medical community considers this to be the maximum healthy amount. Any amount above this can cause serious issues. As stated in the beginning, a lot depends on the individual dose and your sensitivity. In addition, people who are not used to drinking coffee may be more vulnerable to these negative effects.

Exploring the Negative Effects: From Depression and Anxiety to Fetal Health Problems

There has been evidence that high amounts of caffeine could have a negative effect on your sleep and reproductive health. It can also make your depression worse. 

A woman near the window looks at nature and a cup in her hand.
Caffeine Both Makes It Difficult To Fall Asleep And Shortens The Time Period Spent Sleeping (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Ingesting high amounts of caffeine less than six hours before bed can lead to insomnia. Caffeine both makes it difficult to fall asleep and shortens the time period spent sleeping. Having too much caffeine could also lead to frequent urination. Having to get up multiple times during the night to go to the bathroom could also contribute to insomnia.

A study showed that women who consumed more than three sodas a day had lower fertility rates. Contradictorily, consuming 300mg of caffeine or tea did not show the same effects. Once pregnancy is achieved, however, the evidence is clear that caffeine intake should be limited. Drinking too much caffeine during pregnancy has been associated with increased risks of having a miscarriage. Even if these pregnancy issues are avoided, high caffeine consumption could result in babies with low birth weight.

Excessive caffeine use could also have a negative impact on mental health. Although there is no direct link between excessive caffeine use and depression, resulting insomnia could negatively affect your mood. If you’re undergoing caffeine withdrawal, depression could be a symptom. With regards to anxiety, there is a more direct link. The symptoms of anxiety have a great deal of overlap with the effects of taking too much caffeine. The stimulating effects of caffeine could trigger panic attacks or heart palpitations in susceptible individuals.

Healthy Alternatives

Given these negative side effects, you may be looking for caffeine alternatives There are several ways to get that same jolt of energy. These can include physical activity, drinking more water, and taking B vitamins or related supplements (like this four sigmatic mushroom elixir). A good way to know when you need to cut back on your habit is if it interferes with your daily life. Additionally, if you’re consuming increasingly larger quantities just to get the same effect, it may be time to reconsider your habit. As you can see, caffeine has both positive and negative qualities. Being aware of both is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.

I recommend you carefully balance your diet and only use caffeine early in the day. When used right, it’s a great way to improve your mood and boost your productivity!

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