According to the National Coffee Association, 68% of Americans report coffee addiction. The HRF (Health Research Funding) indicates that 90% of people across the globe consume at least one drink or meal containing caffeine every day (1).
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that under the right circumstances can bolster cognitive and physical performance. Like all other substances, caffeine intake should be observed in moderation and preferably through natural sources.
While it undoubtedly enhances alertness, caffeine is not devoid of negative effects.
What caffeine does in your body
The brain produces a chemical called adenosine which binds to its targeted receptors. Once bound, the receptors send signals to slow nerve cell activity and dilate blood vessels allowing more oxygen to the brain, which causes drowsiness.
Caffeine works as an antagonist to adenosine receptors. It fools the receptors into letting it bind, however doesn’t trigger the same cascade of signals instructing the physiological changes that lead to drowsiness. Instead, it initiates the opposite actions, speeding up the cells and constricting vessels. With increased neural activity, the brain interprets this as a reaction to a potential threat and releases adrenaline.
Therefore, upon metabolism of a caffeinated food or beverage the body becomes temporarily more alert.
Benefits of Caffeine:
1. Decreases Fatigue and Boosts Metabolism
The most apparent effect of caffeine, often the reason it’s consumed in the first place, is its ability to counter fatigue. This is noticeable for both physical and mental tasks. Consuming caffeine enhances focus, one of the first functions to fail when experiencing exhaustion. Additionally, elite athletes sometimes take caffeine to improve their strength and endurance right before training or competing (2).
2. Improves mental functioning and memory
Research consistently demonstrates the impact of caffeine on both mental functioning tasks and long-term memory. Even if the “boost” is short-lived, memories formed or skills acquired during this time persist long after the caffeine’s lifespan (3).
3. Disease Prevention
Correlational studies suggest regular caffeine consumption in the form of coffee or teas may help prevent onset of various diseases, including: liver disease, liver cancer, Parkinson’s, diabetes, dementia, heart disease and a few others.
Drawbacks of Caffeine:
1. Increases blood pressure and heart rate
Both constriction of blood vessels and the release of adrenaline can cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. The increase usually only lasts briefly and returns to normal as the caffeine runs its course. For most people, this is not problematic. However, for individuals already suffering from high blood pressure or even those consuming multiple caffeine products a day, this can be a potentially dangerous side effect. If you experience or are prone to high blood pressure, consult a medical professional prior to use and use caution with caffeine consumption.
Due to caffeine’s stimulatory capabilities, if entering the body too late in the day it may cause insomnia. This can be avoided by ensuring compliance with caffeine’s half life of about 6 hours- if 200 mg of caffeine is consumed at noon, at 6 p.m. there will still be 100 mg of caffeine in your system.
3. Addiction and withdrawal
Similar to all other stimulants, caffeine possesses a stronger possibility of addiction than benign substances. Addiction is accompanied by both psychological and physical distress. In more severe cases, the body becomes dependent on a consistent intake of caffeine and can present with withdrawal symptoms if a dose is missed. Therefore, caffeine can be enjoyed healthily in moderation from natural sources.