Caffeine myths and facts
Is caffeine bad for you, or can it be good for you?
Caffeine doesn’t just come from coffee, tea and some fizzy drinks, you even get caffeine from chocolate and some medicines.
We help you sort out the caffeine myths from the facts.
MYTH No. 1: Caffeine is addictive
Fact: This one has some truth to Caffeine, depending on what you mean by “addictive.” Caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system, and regular use of it does cause mild physical dependence. But it doesn’t threaten your physical, social, or economic health the way addictive drugs do.
If you stop taking ir abruptly, you may have symptoms for a day or more, especially if you consume two or more cups of coffee a day. Symptoms of withdrawal from caffeine include:
- Depressed mood
- Difficulty concentrating
Although it withdrawal can make you feel bad for a few days, it does not cause the severity of withdrawal or harmful drug-seeking behaviours as drugs or alcohol. For this reason, most experts don’t consider it’s dependence a true addiction.
Myth No. 2: Caffeine causes insomnia
Fact: It depends. The human body absorbs caffeine at a fast pace, but it also flushes it quickly. Processed essentially through the liver, it has a relatively short half-life. On typical it takes four to five hours to rid half of the consumed caffeine from your body–after another five hours 75 percent of it is eliminated. Unless you are very susceptible, a morning cup or two shouldn’t effect your sleep.
But if you have a quick latte at the 3:00PM slump, or an espresso after dinner–you may be counting sheep for a lot longer than you’re comfortable with. Your sleep shouldn’t be pretentious if you steer clear of caffeine for at least six hours before bedtime. Your sensitivity may vary, though, depending on your metabolism and the amount of caffeine you commonly consume.
Myth No. 3: Caffeine increases risk for osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancer
Fact: Moderate amounts of caffeine–about 300 milligrams, roughly three cups of coffee–apparently cause no harm in most healthy adults. Although some people are more sensitive to its effects, including older people and those with high blood pressure. Here are the facts by condition.
At high levels (more than 744 milligrams per day, around seven or eight cups of coffee), caffeine may increase calcium and magnesium loss in urine. But recent studies suggest it does not increase your risk for bone loss, especially if you get enough calcium. You can offset the calcium lost from drinking one cup of coffee by adding just two tablespoons of milk. However, research does show some links between caffeine and hip fracture risk in older adults. Older adults may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine on calcium metabolism. If you’re an older woman, discuss with your doctor whether you should limit your daily caffeine intake to 300 milligrams or less.
According to the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, caffeine consumption does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and does not raise cholesterol levels or cause irregular heartbeat. A slight, temporary rise in heart rate and blood pressure is common in those who are sensitive to caffeine–but the rise is minimal and comparative to normal activity like walking up stairs. That said, ff you have high blood pressure talk to your doctor about caffeine intake as some people may be more sensitive to its effects. Also, more research is needed to tell whether caffeine increases the risk for stroke in people with high blood pressure.
According to The New York Times, scientists conducting an international review of 66 studies found coffee drinking had “little if any effect on the risk of developing pancreatic or kidney cancer. In fact, another review suggested that compared with people who do not drink coffee, those who do have half the risk of developing liver cancer.” And a study of 59,000 women in Sweden (the country with the highest coffee consumption per capita in the world) found no connection between caffeine consumption and breast cancer.
Myth No. 4: Pregnant women or those trying to get pregnant should avoid It
Fact: I don’t know–it seemed natural for me to avoid caffeine both times I was pregnant, but a study conducted at SUNY NY and another study published in the journal Epidemiology looked at the effects of caffeine-containing beverages on reproductive factors, and the results suggests that moderate caffeine consumption is safe. In addition, reviews have found a lack of clear correlation between moderate caffeine intake and spontaneous abortion or abnormal foetal growth. However, one study found that women who consumed the caffeine equivalent of five or more cups of coffee per day were more than twice as likely to miscarry as those who consumed less caffeine or no caffeine at all, suggesting that “drinking very large amounts of coffee or other caffeine-containing beverages may increase a pregnant woman’s miscarriage risk,” said Mark Klebanoff, M.D., Director of NICHD’s Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research. “However, serum levels of paraxanthine that are usually seen among women consuming only about two or three cups of coffee a day do not appear to increase this risk.”
Questions remain about the effects of high doses of caffeine and it is wise for pregnant women to practice moderation (less than 200mg per day). The Food and Drug Administration’s advice? “Pregnant women should avoid caffeine-containing foods and drugs, if possible, or consume them only sparingly.”
Myth No. 5: Caffeine is bad for kids
Fact: Ack–The Journal of Pediatrics published a survey showing that in the US, 5 to 7 year old children drank approximately 52 mg of caffeine daily and 8 to 12 year old children drank 109 mg daily. In general, kids have the same ability to process caffeine that adults do. A study by A. Leviton published in Clinical Pediatrics suggests that caffeine-containing drinks and foods–consumed in moderation–have no detectable effects on hyperactivity or attention span of children. However, in sensitive children, higher doses of caffeine, may cause temporary effects such as excitability, irritability, reduced sleep or anxiety.
But really, in my opinion, kids have their entire lives to be (non-) addicted to caffeine. Even if studies do suggest that up to 300mg of caffeine daily may be safe for kids, the vehicles by which they are consuming it (sodas and energy drinks) are undeniably unhealthy.
Myth No. 6: Caffeine can knock out the alcohol
Fact: Such a cliche–a cup of coffee will erase the martini before, wine with, and the cognac after dinner. What research actually suggests is that people only think caffeine will help them sober up. Alcohol can be very clever that way. People who drink caffeine along with alcohol think they’re fine behind the wheel, when actually reaction time and judgment are still impaired. In fact, college kids who drink both alcohol and caffeine are actually more likely to have car accidents. According to Thomas Gould, PhD, of Temple University, ”The myth about coffee’s sobering powers is particularly important to debunk because the co-use of caffeine and alcohol could actually lead to poor decisions with disastrous outcomes.”
Myth No. 7: No health benefits
Fact: I can tell you right now, based on personal experience, that caffeine improves alertness, concentration, energy, clear-headedness, and feelings of sociability. Brain-fog be gone! Scientific research at John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and Harvard support these subjective experiences–and have shown that caffeine may also improve memory and logical reasoning. A French study showed a slower decline in cognitive ability among women who consumed caffeine: “Caffeine is a psychostimulant which appears to reduce cognitive decline in women,” said study author Karen Ritchie, PhD, of INSERM, the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research, in Montpellier, France.
Caffeine-containing beverages have been in the headlines lately for their high level of antioxidants, which appear to promote heart health and cancer prevention. Other recent reports suggest (although not yet conclusively) that caffeine may be useful in treating allergic reactions due to its ability to reduce the concentration of histamines, the substances that cause the body to respond to an allergy-causing substance. More research is needed in this area before conclusions can be drawn however. Limited evidence suggests caffeine may also reduce the risk of the following: Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Moderation and caffeine levels
As with everything, moderation is the key. But what is a moderate intake of caffeine for an adult? About 300 mg a day.
Instant coffee: 75mg per per 5-ounce cup
Brewed coffee: 80mg-135mg, per 6-ounce cup
Espresso: 100mg per 3 -ounces
Brewed tea: 50mg per 7-ounce cup
Energy drinks: 28-87mg per 9 – ounce glass
Cola drinks: 8-53 mg per 7-ounce glass
Other soft drinks: 24mg per 7-ounce glass
Chocolate: 5.5-35.5mg per 1.5 ounces