What Is Caffeine, and Is It Good or Bad for Health?

What Is Caffeine and Why Does It Matter?

Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed substances worldwide, although, unlike other drugs, like alcohol, caffeine is much less likely to impair coordination and judgment. That doesn’t mean that caffeine is completely safe, though. In fact, for as much as it is consumed, caffeine has many health effects that remain largely unknown to the public that consumes it regularly. In North America, for instance, it is estimated that 90% of the population consumes a caffeine product every day (and an estimated 80% of the population in other parts of the world). This isn’t surprising since caffeine is present in a host of foods and beverages, notably chocolate, soft drinks, tea, and coffee. However, caffeine isn’t the same in every form you find it in; there are some mate drink, natural caffeine drinks, and foods that don’t have the same negative, or even just uncertain, impacts as those which are supplemented by chemicals and sugar.

As a substance that enjoys widespread consumption – so much so that we often don’t even think about it – it is important to discuss its effects on health. Likely the most well-known characteristic of caffeine is its use as a stimulant; early morning lineups outside drive-through coffee shops are a staple of working-class culture, and it is a safe bet that, in the morning, there will always be a lineup. Tempting though it may be to swill back cup after cup of coffee in order to keep your attention focused on tedious work, the Mayo Clinic recommends abstaining from drinking more than 400 milligrams of caffeine daily, which will vary depending on whether you consume more conventional teas and coffees or seek alternatives like natural caffeine drinks.

Staying within the safe range of daily consumption, and consuming it in healthy ways, like in natural caffeine drinks, caffeine has been known to provide several benefits to health. However, like anything else, excessive consumption carries its fair share of detriments to your health. Caffeine is one of the world’s most studied substances, and there is far from a consensus on whether the benefits outweigh the deficits or vice-versa; it depends on amount consumed and whether you have a pre-existing condition which would make you susceptible to its dangers.

Here is a list of both the positive health benefits and the negative health effects of caffeine, respectively:

Positive Health Effects of Caffeine

When initially consumed, particularly through healthy forms like natural caffeine drinks, caffeine is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, with its acute effects mostly affecting the brain within fifteen minutes. Caffeine is primarily a stimulant, for which it is most prominently used. The stimulation of the brain brings along with it many cognitive benefits. Caffeine is thought to block the neurotransmitter adenosine, which makes it easier for releasing “pick-me-up” neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine.

Notably, caffeine improves reaction time and ability to think. Too often, the working public lose sleep for myriad reasons, but people cannot afford to call in every time they need to catch up, so they rely on natural caffeine drinks to help. Caffeine is also helpful in reducing the possibility of car accidents, according to a study conducted by the Australian Department of Defence.

The health benefits of natural caffeine drinks are not restricted to increased cognitive function. Several studies have attributed numerous physiological benefits. For one, caffeine may increase metabolic function and accelerate weight loss by mobilizing fat tissues. For this reason, caffeine is a component of many weight-loss treatments. A German study that pitted subjects who drank caffeine against a control group that did not noted that the group that drank between two and four cups of coffee a day were more likely to lose weight and keep it off.

Among the lesser-known health benefits of regulated caffeine consumption in the form of natural caffeine drinks are the reduced risk of cancer, the reduced incidence of suicide, increasing stamina during exercising, stimulation of follicle growth, reduction of chronic inflammation, and strengthening of heart muscles.

Negative Health Effects of Caffeine

Like any other mind-altering substance, excessive consumption of caffeine, especially when it is consumed in its non-natural caffeine drink form, brings with it a swath of risks, and there may be risks present for those who consume any caffeine at all, particularly if they suffer from certain health conditions.

Because of its stimulating properties and tendency to work the heart, a common negative effect associated with non-natural caffeine drinks and other forms of consumption is high blood pressure. This is of particular concern to those who suffer from hypertension. For the same reason, caffeine increases the possibility of heart attacks among young adults. As well, kicking caffeine after a long time of consuming it can cause withdrawal symptoms such as drowsiness, anxiety, irritability, shaking, or in rare cases, tremors.

Bottom Line

The consensus seems to be that, for healthy adults, a nominal daily consumption of caffeine not exceeding 400 milligrams is mostly harmless. Reasonably used, the benefits of natural caffeine drinks clearly outweigh the deficits in most cases, and its seemingly universal use is a testament to its efficacy, and its role in modern society.