There’s nothing like that first cuppa in the morning – but is it really a healthy choice?
Whether you’re dropping into your favourite café, brewing at home, or doing the business ‘coffee date’ thing, it’s hard to imagine a day without your hot beverage of choice. The caffeine perks you up, and there’s something magical about sipping a steaming cuppa.
Each day, billions of people rely on caffeine as a natural stimulant to help them wake up or get through the afternoon slump. Most commonly found in tea, coffee, and cacao plants, it works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system, helping you stay alert.
How caffeine works
Once consumed, caffeine is quickly absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream. The caffeine from one cup of coffee takes about 20 minutes to enter your bloodstream and only about an hour to reach maximum effectiveness.
Caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine, which is a neurotransmitter that relaxes the brain and makes you feel tired. Normally, adenosine levels build up over the day, making you feel progressively more tired. With caffeine as a blocker, you feel less tired.
A relative increase in other signalling molecules, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, can also improve your mood and enhance brain function.
But how much caffeine is it okay to have?
Caffeine is talked about for its negative effects on sleep and anxiety, however, studies also report it has various health benefits.
Like many things, it’s about how much you consume. A caffeine intake of 200 mg per dose, and up to 400 mg per day, is generally considered safe.
Here are the amounts of caffeine per 240ml (a small cup) of some popular beverages
- Espresso: 240–720 mg
- Coffee: 102–200 mg
- Energy drinks: 50–160 mg
- Brewed tea: 40–120 mg
- Soft drinks: 20–40 mg
- Decaffeinated coffee: 3–12 mg
- Hot chocolate/Chocolate milk: 2–7 mg
Some foods also contain caffeine for example, chocolate. 28 grams of milk chocolate contains 1–15 mg, whereas 28 grams of dark chocolate 5–35 mg.
Caffeine is in some over-the-counter drugs like cold, allergy, and pain medications. It’s also a common ingredient in weight loss supplements, often in the form of guarana which has 40-80 mg of caffeine per gram!
Too much caffeine
Over 400mg of caffeine per day can cause insomnia, stomach irritation, nausea, nervousness and restlessness, and increased heart rate and respiration. Larger doses may even cause headache, agitation, high blood pressure, anxiety, and chest pain.
Caffeine is considered mildly addictive, and some people may be susceptible to developing a dependency.
Caffeine can easily cross the placenta, increasing the risk of miscarriage or low birth weight. Pregnant women should limit their intake
Caffeine can also interact with some medications. Individuals taking the muscle relaxant Zanaflex or the antidepressant Luvox should avoid caffeine because these drugs can increase their effects.
The general consensus though is that 2-4 cups of coffee per day is not only quite safe but has some health benefits.
The good news about caffeine
It’s science – you really do feel brighter, happier and more able to function after your cuppa!
Here are some of the benefits of regular yet moderate caffeine intake.
Improved mood and brain function
Many people report that after ingesting 37.5–450 mg of caffeine, they have improved alertness, short-term recall, and reaction time.
Studies link drinking 2–3 cups of caffeinated coffee (providing about 200–300 mg caffeine) per day to a 45% lower risk of suicide and a 13% lower risk of depression.
Drinking between 3–5 cups of coffee per day or more than 3 cups of tea per day may also reduce the risk of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by 28–60%.
Researchers say that women aged 65 and older who drink two to three cuppas a day are less likely to develop dementia in general.
Boosted metabolism and fat burning
As it stimulates the central nervous system, caffeine may increase metabolism by up to 11% and fat burning by up to 13%.
Consuming 300 mg of caffeine per day may allow you to burn an extra 79 calories daily.
Enhanced exercise performance
Caffeine may increase the use of fat as fuel. This helps the glucose stored in muscles last longer, potentially delaying the time it takes your muscles to reach exhaustion.
Caffeine may also improve muscle contractions and increase tolerance to fatigue so that workouts feel easier.
Protects against heart disease and diabetes
Evidence shows a 16–18% lower risk of heart disease in men and women who drink between 1–4 cups of coffee daily (approximately 100–400 mg of caffeine).
Other studies show that drinking 2–4 cups of coffee or green tea per day is linked to a 14–20% lower risk of stroke.
All up, there are considerable benefits of a regular yet moderate caffeine habit.
And the even better news about coffee!
Good news: The case for coffee is stronger than ever. Study after study indicates you may be getting more from your much-loved morning beverage than you thought: Coffee is brimming with substances that may help guard against health conditions more common in women.
Caffeine is the first thing that comes to mind, but coffee also contains antioxidants and other active substances that may reduce internal inflammation and protect against disease.
Coffee consumption is linked to several other health benefits beyond those already provided by its caffeine content:
- Liver protection. Coffee may reduce the risk of liver damage (cirrhosis) by as much as 84%. It has a protective effect on the liver and coffee drinkers are more likely to have liver enzyme levels within a healthy range than people who don’t drink coffee.
- You could live longer. Drinking coffee may decrease the risk of an early death by as much as 30%, especially for women and people with diabetes.
- Decreased cancer risk. Drinking 2–4 cups of coffee per day may reduce liver cancer risk by up to 64% and colorectal cancer risk by up to 38%
- Skin protection. Consuming 4 or more cups of caffeinated coffee per day may lower the risk of skin cancer by 20%
- Reduced risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease
- Gout prevention. Regularly drinking 4 cups of coffee per day may reduce the risk of developing gout by 40% in men and 57% in women
- Gut health. Consuming 3 cups of coffee a day may increase the amount and activity of beneficial gut bacteria.
- Your DNA will be stronger. Dark roast coffee decreases breakage in DNA strands, which occur naturally but can lead to cancer or tumours if not repaired by your cells.
The bottom line
Caffeine isn’t as unhealthy as was once believed, in fact just the opposite.
Drinking coffee may promote a healthy liver, skin, and digestive tract. It may also prolong life and help prevent several diseases.
Now you can sip your daily cup of coffee or tea, knowing it as an enjoyable part of your health routine. Life is good!