Health Benefits of Caffeine
Many of us reach for a cup of coffee to start our day – in fact, it is estimated that 1.6 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world on a daily basis. The rich caffeine content provides many health benefits, particularly in relation to energy, concentration and exercise performance, while it can also be used in combination with other drugs to prevent and cure headaches and aid in weight loss.
What Is Caffeine?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant that begins to work its magic quickly. It enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain where it blocks the function of a compound called adenosine, which normally signals to the brain when the body is tired. This increases the pace of the central nervous system and aids alertness and muscle function.
Benefits of Caffeine
While we normally think of caffeine as a morning energy-booster, the health benefits of caffeine are wide and far-reaching.
- Brain power: Studies show that a single cup of coffee can boost brain power, concentration and focus for about 45 minutes, although for some people the beneficial effects can last as long as 6 hours.
- Sports endurance and performance: Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system which increases heart rate and breathing rate, preparing your body for peak performance. Studies show that taking up to 400mg of caffeine supplements 30 minutes prior to a workout can improve speed, stamina and endurance. However, these benefits can only be found from caffeine supplements, not cups of coffee. It is thought that coffee contains additional chemicals that reduce caffeine’s ability to boost performance.
- Blood sugar levels: If you take your coffee without spoonful’s of sugar, then you may also reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. It is thought that the powerful antioxidants in coffee can help to balance blood sugar levels, and researchers have shown that 5 cups a day may half the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Weight loss: Caffeine is thought to offer fat burning properties. Studies have shown that caffeine can boost the metabolic rate by 3% to 11%, and increase fat burning by as much as 29% in lean adults. However, it is also thought that the fat burning benefits of caffeine may diminish slightly with long-term use.
- Migraines: Studies show that taking caffeine supplements in combination with migraine medications can improve their absorption and effectiveness at relieving migraines and tension headaches. There is some evidence that taking caffeine supplements alone may help to relieve tension headaches, but the effect appears to diminish after long-term use at high dosages.
- Heart health: Researchers at Harvard University found that men who drank 4 cups of coffee on a daily basis had a 53% lower risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who never drank coffee. Other studies have shown that coffee drinkers have a 20% lower risk of stroke.
- Liver health: Coffee may help to protect against cirrhosis, and there seems to be a correlation between higher coffee consumption, and lower risks of liver cancer. Findings suggest that three cups a day may reduce the risk of liver cancer by as much as 50%.
- Asthma: Caffeine is a mild natural antihistamine, and studies have found that drinking two cups of coffee during an asthma attack can significantly improve symptoms. Caffeine improves lung function for up to 4 hours, however, it is not recommended as a regular treatment for asthma. Instead, it should be used as a stop-gap measure when an inhaler is not available.
- Neurodegenerative diseases: There is compelling evidence that caffeine may play a protective role against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Several study findings appear to show that consuming 3 to 5 cups of coffee on a daily basis during mid-life is associated with a lower risk of dementia in later life. However, this area requires further research.
How Much Should I Take?
The most widely used source of caffeine is coffee, while other caffeinated beverages remain are popular such as tea and energy drinks. Caffeine supplements can also provide an extra boost when needed. At least 100mg is required for the beneficial effects, while it is considered safe for adults to take up to 400mg of caffeine per day, which should be split into two 200mg doses.
Caffeine can metabolise at different rates from person to person. People with anxiety disorders may be more susceptible to the anxiogenic effects of caffeine, while children and pregnant women may metabolise caffeine slower and so have an increased risk of caffeine intoxication. Children and adolescents should also avoid caffeine consumption since it is unknown how caffeine intake impacts the developing brain.
If you have heart problems or a family history of heart disease, avoid highly caffeinated products, particularly before exercise.
Side Effects of Caffeine
Caffeine is generally considered safe for most adults. However, when taken in high doses, caffeine intoxication can occur, symptoms of which include anxiety, restlessness and heart palpitations. If you notice any tremors, difficulty sleeping or stress, reduce caffeine intake. A severe overdose may also lead to hallucinations and depression.
Due to the positive stimulatory effects, some people can become physically dependent on caffeine. Common withdrawal symptoms include headaches, fatigue, drowsiness and irritability.