That magical substance in your morning coffee, your afternoon espresso, and your evening cup of tea. It’s available in energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster, and 5-Hour Energy, chewing gum brands such as Jolt and Java Gum, cola and non-cola soft drinks, including some root beer brands, green coffee bean and weight loss supplements, and is available in bottled water brands like Water Joe, Avitae, and Element. Caffeine is hidden in foods like chocolate and ice cream, and is in breath fresheners and pain relievers.
Caffeine is seemingly everywhere, and it has 54% of Americans wrapped around its little finger on a daily basis. In fact, “the United States is number one in highest amount of caffeine consumption with approximately 971 tons a year” (Source). That’s a lot of caffeine, and while consumption amounts vary on an individual basis, it still begs the following question—is caffeine good for your overall health?
Caffeine Intake & Your Health
With as much as 90% of people in the world consuming at least one meal or beverage with caffeine in it every day,” (Source) it’s important to look at recent research on overall caffeine consumption.
An early 2014 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published by The American Academy of Pediatrics found the following:
- “Data from 1999-2000 shows that soda accounted for 62 percent of total caffeine intake; the most recent data shows soda decreased by nearly half to 38 percent of total caffeine intake” (Source).
- “Data from 1999-2000 shows that coffee accounted for 10 percent of caffeine intake; the most recent data shows that coffee accounts for a growing 24 percent of total caffeine intake” (Source).
- “Energy drinks were not measured in 1999-2000; the most recent data shows that energy drinks account for only 6 percent of total caffeine intake” (Source).
While this specific study simply shows a decline in soda consumption, it doesn’t do much to show us whether caffeine is healthy or not. As with any stimulant, caffeine may cause undesirable side effects, such as difficulty sleeping. However, it may also help improve focus, too. Results vary based on the individual, but let’s take a look at some advantages and disadvantages of regular consumption.
It may be true that caffeine is the most widely used drug on the planet, but some studies have shown possible benefits of daily consumption.
- According to a 2014 study published by Nature Neuroscience, “caffeine may have an enhancing effect on long-term memory in humans” (Source).
- Both Caffeine Informer and Liver Guru state that “caffeine detoxes the liver and cleanses the colon when taken as a caffeine enema” (Source).
- A 2007 study conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia and published in The Journal of Pain states that “a moderate dose of caffeine (approximately two cups of coffee) can reduce post-workout pain by up to 48%” (Source).
- A study published in The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry found that “people who consume caffeine regularly have a lower risk of suicide” (Source).
- According to a 2014 study that appeared in Psychopharmacology, “caffeine may improve reaction time and logical reasoning during times of restricted sleep” (Source).
While there have been studies showing possible benefits to caffeine consumption, there are also studies that show the possibility of the substance having harmful effects on overall health.
- A 2003 study that appeared in the American Journal of Hypertension claims that “caffeine consumption may raise blood pressure, especially in those already suffering from hypertension and those who don’t normally consume caffeine” (Source). A second study done at May Clinic found the same. (You can see those findings here.)
- According to a number of studies, including a 1976 study published in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, “caffeine in a person’s system at bedtime may mimic the symptoms of insomnia” (Source).
- In 2004, a study published in Neurology found that “while occasional doses of caffeine may relieve headaches, the overuse of caffeine can cause headaches and may lead to migraines” (Source).
- According to a 2015 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, “caffeine may increase the number of sugar-containing beverages consumed, which contributes to obesity and the development of diabetes” (Source).
- A 2014 study that appeared in Drug Design, Development and Therapy states that “caffeine may inhibit collagen synthesis in human skin” (Source).
Limitations & Cutting Back
As with anything, moderation is an important key in caffeine consumption. If you’re curious about how much caffeine is in items like coffee, chocolate, or green tea, Brown University Health Services offers the following chart:
Remember, the only person (aside from your healthcare practitioner, perhaps) who knows if you’re consuming too much caffeine is you. The FDA has stated that “up to 400mg per day is not associated with negative health impacts,” (Source) and while there always seems to be a bit of back-and-forth over whether or not caffeine is truly addictive, there’s never any harm in cutting back, especially if you feel like you need to. (If you’re thinking about quitting caffeine altogether, take a look at some great herbal teas that may be able to help.)
Tips for a Caffeine Cut-Back
There may be no need to go cold turkey and quit caffeine (unless you want to, of course), and there are ways to cut back your current consumption that may support your overall health in the long run.
- Steer clear of soda and energy drinks. When you’re really thirsty, reach for cold water instead. If you reach for that can of Red Bull or Pepsi when your body is in need of hydration, you might end up making the dehydration worse (and you’ll be adding to your overall caffeine consumption, not reducing it).
- Give decaf or half-caf coffee a try. While most people depend on that morning joe for a pick-me-up, there’s no shame in going decaf if you’re trying to cut back. Decaf coffee actually has a small amount of caffeine, so you won’t be entirely without. Half-caf varieties offer the same luxury: less caffeine, but you still get that important morning boost.
- Read labels on OTC medications. Whether you’re a regular user of items like Tylenol, Advil, or others, remember that they may have caffeine in them. According to WebMD, medications like Excedrin and Midol can have as much as 65mg of caffeine in them (Source). Some prescription medicines may also have a higher caffeine content.
- Make the choice to reduce your daily number of caffeinated drinks. This is a tough one for many people, but it’s vital if you’re looking to cut back on caffeine consumption. Always start slow, and replace caffeinated drinks with water or juice instead.
While the positives and negatives of caffeine consumption will always be debated, whether or not you use it is entirely up to you.
What are your thoughts on how caffeine may affect your health? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave us a comment below!