ON THIS PAGE
- What is caffeine?
- How does caffeine affect your body if you are allergic, sensitive or caffeine-naive?
- Health benefits of caffeine – when is caffeine good for you?
- Cognitive function and psycho-motor performance
- Weight loss
- Heart health
- Skin cancer
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Physical performance of the athletes
- Type 2 diabetes
- Liver health
There is no definitive answer to the question of whether caffeine is beneficial or detrimental to health. Everyone reacts to caffeine differently and health benefits of caffeine as well as its harmful effects should be considered on individual bases. This article lists most commonly claimed caffeine benefits and discusses available evidence.
What is caffeine? Is caffeine a drug?
Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance in fruits and the leaves of plants such as coffee, tea, yerba mate and guarana. It is present in many products including sodas, energy drinks, chocolate, cough syrups and slimming tablets.
Caffeine is also added to some over-the-counter medicines such as cold medications. Caffeine contents in drinks and foods may range anywhere from trace amounts in decaffeinated drinks such as coffee or tea to over 300mg per serving in products such as energy drinks or Starbucks coffee.
For the full list of contents of caffeine in drinks please see “Caffeine levels in drinks and foods”
Caffeine is a stimulant drug (known as a psychoactive drug) that affects the nervous system, causing symptoms such as alertness and temporary mood elevation.
It also affects the rest of the body such as the hormonal system and the metabolism of fat during exercise (although studies showing long term weight-loss effects are inconclusive). (1)
Caffeine is a dose-dependent drug. The larger the dose, the stronger the stimulation effects. However, it doesn’t collect in the body, but gets broken down in the liver and excreted through urine. (2)
Caffeine reaches the bloodstream in about 15 minutes, attaining its peak saturation in the blood in 15-45 minutes. It has a half-life of around 6 hours (the time taken for the caffeine concentration in your blood to reduce by half). (3)
Although a drug, caffeine is not addictive like other drugs. Nevertheless, individuals who drink caffeine daily develop a physical dependence to it.
How does caffeine affect your body if you are allergic, sensitive or caffeine-naive?
The way you handle caffeine and the intensity of the symptoms depend on a variety of factors, such as the individual’s sensitivity and tolerance level to caffeine, and in rare cases caffeine allergy.
In other words, the positive and/or negative effects that caffeine exerts on each person and if one should drink caffeinated drinks and in what quantities are closely correlated to:
- Caffeine allergy
Caffeine allergy is extremely rare, with only a handful of cases recorded. However, if you show common allergic reactions to caffeine such as hives or anaphylaxis, you should avoid any amount of caffeine.
- Caffeine sensitivity
The bottom line is, are you a fast or a slow caffeine metabolizer?
Caffeine sensitivity is an important factor that determines whether coffee is good or bad for you. The genetic make-up dictates how many caffeine-breaking enzymes are produced by the body, therefore influencing how well you can handle caffeine.
Being caffeine-sensitive or a slow caffeine metabolizer restricts how much coffee you can manage, by producing unpleasant overdose symptoms as soon as you surpass your caffeine limit.
Negative rather than positive health effects are likely to occur as a result of caffeine intake. The more caffeine sensitive you are, the less caffeine you are able to consume before you experience the negative effects. In extreme cases, if you are very sensitive, you may not be capable of having any caffeinated drinks.
Fast caffeine metabolizers, on the other hand, can quickly break down and excrete caffeine. They normally experience a wide range of health benefits of caffeine intake, as mentioned in the section below.
The main point is that, if you are sensitive to caffeine, drinking caffeinated beverages will bring you more negative than positive effects, depending on the sensitivity level and on the amount consumed. However, if you are a fast metabolizer, the positive impact of caffeine intake described below may be applicable.
NOTE: many studies on caffeine don’t take into consideration genetic factors.
You are not sensitive to caffeine. In this case, you may build your tolerance to the point of over-consumption and high dependency (caffeinism), which has detrimental results on your health. Studies don’t show any health benefits from such high amounts of caffeine.
NOTE: many studies don’t take into consideration the tolerance factor, making the results misleading. For instance, we cannot conclude that energy drinks’ containing caffeine, have a diuretic effect if we don’t know if the participants are usual consumers of caffeinated drinks. Their increased urination may be due to the fact that they haven’t developed a tolerance to caffeine rather than caffeine having a diuretic effect.
Health benefits of caffeine – when is caffeine good for you?
Most of the caffeine health benefits are experienced by people who are not allergic or sensitive to caffeine and don’t consume excessive amounts or overdose on caffeine.
Caffeine benefits in cognitive function and psycho-motor performance
Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee or tea, if consumed throughout the day, improve alertness, learning capacity, mood, memory and psychomotor performance. These results refer to medium to high caffeine users, rather to low caffeine users.
Caffeine benefits in weight loss
Caffeine exerts some weight reducing effects in the short term, by increasing the rate of burning fat and boosting the metabolic rate.
However, in the long term, these effects are negligible due to the increased tolerance to caffeine. Nevertheless, it may be positive as a tablet or powder when taken before exercise to help increase the burning of the fatty tissue. (read more..)
Caffeine benefits in Gout
Long term caffeine consumption is associated with decreased risk of gout. (6)
Caffeine benefits in heart health
As explained above, there are distinct health effects of caffeine on heart health depending if you are a slow or fast metabolizer. Heart health benefits of caffeine only apply to fast metabolizers.
For medium to high caffeine users, those that can handle larger amounts of caffeine, or fast metabolizers, long term caffeine intake, of about 400mg of caffeine (between 3-5 cups of coffee daily), shows the largest reduction on cardiovascular disease risk. For this group, there is a 22% lower risk of heart attack by having 200-300mg caffeine per day (2-3 cups of coffee).
To see the effects of caffeine on slow metabolizers, please see the above section listing negative effects.
Caffeine benefits in skin cancer
Two recent, large studies on the effects of coffee on skin cancer have found that caffeinated coffee consumption is associated with a reduction of a risk of malignant melanoma by up to 25%.
Because decaffeinated coffee didn’t show a significant association with the risk of melanoma, scientists think that this may be due to caffeine. More studies on caffeine are planned to confirm these theories. (9, 10)
Caffeine benefits in depression
Several observational studies show that higher caffeine users (especially in coffee) have a decreased risk of depression and depression related suicides. An amount of caffeine of about 400mg (equivalent to 4-5 coffees) is the most optimal in risk reduction and is associated with 20% lower risk of developing depression and 53% lower suicide risk.
Caffeine benefits in Alzheimer’s disease
Caffeine benefits in Parkinson’s disease
Caffeine benefits in dementia
Caffeine intake reduces the risk of developing dementia. Scientists believed that factors responsible for this reduction may be due to caffeine, antioxidant capacity and increase of insulin sensitivity. (22, 23)
Caffeine benefits in multiple sclerosis (MS)
Studies on the association of caffeine and MS are still inconclusive. Some observational studies show no association, while the most recent study, from 2016, found a correlation between high consumption of caffeinated coffee and about 30% of decreased risk of multiple sclerosis.
This is thought to be due to the caffeine’s neuroprotective properties, and its ability to suppress pro-inflammatory cytokine production. More studies are needed, however, to confirm these findings of caffeine involvement. (24)
Caffeine benefits in physical performance of the athletes
Caffeine (specifically as a capsule/tablet or powder) when taken before exercise, is effective in increasing physical performance (especially in high-intensity workouts of prolonged duration).
It improves performance by acting on several areas in the body: it increases focus and alertness, boosts energy, causes a higher release of epinephrine (adrenaline), increases the release of body fat for energy usage and aids in burning more fatty acids during exercise.
For optimal absorption, it is advisable to take the supplement 60 minutes before the exercise. However, it is also effective when taken 15-30 minutes before exercise. Studies are inconsistent on the effectiveness of caffeine in strength-power exercises. (25, 26)
Caffeine benefits in type 2 diabetes
Caffeine benefits in liver health (cirrhosis)
NUTRITION FACTS VS NUTRITION MYTHS
You will find a summary of the most common nutrition myths and evidence-based nutrition facts here.