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Does caffeine help in weight loss?

Pawel Malczewski
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Short summary:

Caffeine is not a reliable or effective weight loss remedy. Provided that we are genetically safe to drink caffeinated beverages (read more..), caffeine exerts some weight reducing effects in the short term. In the long term, however, these effects are negligent due to decreased sensitivity to caffeine. For a quick answer click here.

Explanation

There are several ways that caffeine potentially contributes to weight loss: through loss of appetite, increase of metabolic rate, fat burning and stimulation and hence increasing physical activity.

Weight loss effects of caffeine in the short term

  1. Caffeine is a stimulant that makes us more active and, therefore, may help indirectly to shed some weight. Caffeine’s stimulating effect comes from the blocking of a neurotransmitter called adenosine from binding to specific receptors in the brain. Adenosine promotes sleep sedation, relaxation and suppresses arousal.

    Caffeine fits to the same receptors and, therefore, takes the place of adenosine. Caffeine also causes an increase in dopamine and adrenalin production. (1)Boulenger JP, Patel J, Post RM, Parma AM, Marangos PJ. Chronic caffeine consumption increases the number of brain adenosine receptors. Life Sci. 1983 Mar 7;32(10):1135-42. Available here.

  2. Does caffeine increase metabolic rate and burn fat?
    A higher metabolic rate allows us to control weight easier, since more calories are burned with less effort. The resting metabolic rate* increases by an average of about 7% with caffeine intake (200mg – about two cups of coffee) and remains elevated for up to 3 hours. (2)Koot P, Deurenberg P. Comparison of changes in energy expenditure and body temperatures after caffeine consumption. Ann Nutr Metab. 1995;39(3):135-42. Available here.

    Another study showed that a 100mg caffeine dose increases the resting metabolic rate by 3-4% over about 2.5 hours. (3)Dulloo AG, Geissler CA, Horton T, Collins A, Miller DS. Normal caffeine consumption: influence on thermogenesis and daily energy expenditure in lean and postobese human volunteers. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989 Jan;49(1):44-50. Available here. Other studies have shown that caffeine increases the metabolic rate in people of normal weight and obese, but has less effect in the obese. (4)Yoshida T, Sakane N, Umekawa T, Kondo M. Relationship between basal metabolic rate, thermogenic response to caffeine, and body weight loss following combined low calorie and exercise treatment in obese women. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1994 May;18(5):345-50. Available here. (5)Acheson KJ, Zahorska-Markiewicz B, Pittet P, Anantharaman K, Jéquier E. Caffeine and coffee: their influence on metabolic rate and substrate utilization in normal weight and obese individuals. Am J Clin Nutr. 1980 May;33(5):989-97. Available here.

    It should be noted that caffeine’s effects on the metabolic rate are dose dependent. Higher doses of 400mg given to less frequent drinkers of caffeine have shown to increase the metabolic rate and to burn more fat cells compared to lower doses. (6)Astrup A, Toubro S, Cannon S, Hein P, Breum L, Madsen J. Caffeine: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of its thermogenic, metabolic, and cardiovascular effects in healthy volunteers. Am J Clin Nutr May 1990 vol. 51 no. 5 759-767. Available here. It is inconclusive, though, if the increase of the metabolic rate is greater in sedentary people or in athletes, since the results of the studies are mixed. (7)LeBlanc J, Jobin M, Côté J, Samson P, Labrie A. Enhanced metabolic response to caffeine in exercise-trained human subjects. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1985 Sep;59(3):832-7. Available here. (8)Poehlman ET, Després JP, Bessette H, Fontaine E, Tremblay A, Bouchard C. Influence of caffeine on the resting metabolic rate of exercise-trained and inactive subjects. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1985 Dec;17(6):689-94. Available here.

    *Resting metabolic rate – is a measurement of metabolism when we are at rest.

  3. Does caffeine make us eat less?
    There are some conflicting studies on the appetite suppression properties of caffeine.

    A caffeine dose that is equivalent to 2-3 cups of coffee (300mg caffeine), taken 30 minutes before a meal, resulted in an energy intake reduction of that meal by 21.7% in men but not in women. (9)Tremblay A, Masson E, Leduc S, Houde A, Despres JP, Caffeine reduces spontaneous energy intake in men but not in women. Volume 8, Issue 5, May 1988, Pages 553–558. Available here.

    Another study has shown, however, negligible effects in both men and women. (10)Gavrieli A, Yannakoulia M, Fragopoulou E, Margaritopoulos D, Chamberland JP, Kaisari P, et al. Caffeinated Coffee Does Not Acutely Affect Energy Intake, Appetite, or Inflammation but Prevents Serum Cortisol Concentrations from Falling in Healthy Men. J Nutr. 2011 Apr 1;141(4):703-7. Available here.

    The possible conclusion from these studies is that caffeine is not a reliable appetite suppressant, and more studies are needed.

Weight loss effects of caffeine in the long term

In the long term, however, caffeine has shown to not be effective for weight loss.

By taking caffeine on regular basis, our bodies become desensitized and the effects of caffeine on the metabolic rate or fat burning is diminished. (11)Boulenger JP, Patel J, Post RM, Parma AM, Marangos PJ. Chronic caffeine consumption increases the number of brain adenosine receptors. Life Sci. 1983 Mar 7;32(10):1135-42. Available here.

One study has proven that caffeine (average intake of 200mg per day measured over 2 years) has no long-term effect on weight loss. (12)Astrup A, Breum L, Toubro S, Hein P, Quaade F. The effect and safety of an ephedrine/caffeine compound compared to ephedrine, caffeine and placebo in obese subjects on an energy restricted diet. A double blind trial. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1992 Apr;16(4):269-77. Available here.

Conclusion

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There are two possibilities to achieve weight loss with the help of caffeine. However, they are not efficient and not worth the effort.

  1. Provided that we are not used to drinking coffee or caffeinated drinks, those who start having caffeine frequently and on regular basis, benefit from a mild weight loss in the initial period, but soon become desensitized to caffeine’s weight loss properties. Weight loss programs are only effective if done over the long term.
    Although you might lose a few pounds in the initial stage of drinking coffee, your usual habits (if not changed) will make you eventually gain the lost weight.
  2. If we take caffeine intermittently – have periods of caffeine abstinence, are physically active and are on a proper balance diet – we can take advantage of some weight loss properties of the caffeine. However, this is not a very realistic option.
    If you like drinking coffee or other caffeine beverages, you drink it because of enjoyment and not because of its weight loss properties. Having abstinence periods of coffee on regular basis for the benefit of an irregular weight loss period sounds like a wasted effort.

Solution: There are other more effective and efficient methods of weight loss, which should include a lifestyle and diet alterations. Caffeine shouldn’t be relied on as a weight loss remedy.

This is not to say it has no other valuable properties beneficial for our health.

There are many benefits of drinking coffee (read more..), provided that your are not sensitive to caffeine.

References   [ + ]

1. Boulenger JP, Patel J, Post RM, Parma AM, Marangos PJ. Chronic caffeine consumption increases the number of brain adenosine receptors. Life Sci. 1983 Mar 7;32(10):1135-42. Available here.
2. Koot P, Deurenberg P. Comparison of changes in energy expenditure and body temperatures after caffeine consumption. Ann Nutr Metab. 1995;39(3):135-42. Available here.
3. Dulloo AG, Geissler CA, Horton T, Collins A, Miller DS. Normal caffeine consumption: influence on thermogenesis and daily energy expenditure in lean and postobese human volunteers. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989 Jan;49(1):44-50. Available here.
4. Yoshida T, Sakane N, Umekawa T, Kondo M. Relationship between basal metabolic rate, thermogenic response to caffeine, and body weight loss following combined low calorie and exercise treatment in obese women. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1994 May;18(5):345-50. Available here.
5. Acheson KJ, Zahorska-Markiewicz B, Pittet P, Anantharaman K, Jéquier E. Caffeine and coffee: their influence on metabolic rate and substrate utilization in normal weight and obese individuals. Am J Clin Nutr. 1980 May;33(5):989-97. Available here.
6. Astrup A, Toubro S, Cannon S, Hein P, Breum L, Madsen J. Caffeine: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of its thermogenic, metabolic, and cardiovascular effects in healthy volunteers. Am J Clin Nutr May 1990 vol. 51 no. 5 759-767. Available here.
7. LeBlanc J, Jobin M, Côté J, Samson P, Labrie A. Enhanced metabolic response to caffeine in exercise-trained human subjects. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1985 Sep;59(3):832-7. Available here.
8. Poehlman ET, Després JP, Bessette H, Fontaine E, Tremblay A, Bouchard C. Influence of caffeine on the resting metabolic rate of exercise-trained and inactive subjects. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1985 Dec;17(6):689-94. Available here.
9. Tremblay A, Masson E, Leduc S, Houde A, Despres JP, Caffeine reduces spontaneous energy intake in men but not in women. Volume 8, Issue 5, May 1988, Pages 553–558. Available here.
10. Gavrieli A, Yannakoulia M, Fragopoulou E, Margaritopoulos D, Chamberland JP, Kaisari P, et al. Caffeinated Coffee Does Not Acutely Affect Energy Intake, Appetite, or Inflammation but Prevents Serum Cortisol Concentrations from Falling in Healthy Men. J Nutr. 2011 Apr 1;141(4):703-7. Available here.
11. Boulenger JP, Patel J, Post RM, Parma AM, Marangos PJ. Chronic caffeine consumption increases the number of brain adenosine receptors. Life Sci. 1983 Mar 7;32(10):1135-42. Available here.
12. Astrup A, Breum L, Toubro S, Hein P, Quaade F. The effect and safety of an ephedrine/caffeine compound compared to ephedrine, caffeine and placebo in obese subjects on an energy restricted diet. A double blind trial. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1992 Apr;16(4):269-77. Available here.

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