Caffeine is still one of the most popular drugs in the world today. Nearly every country consumes it in some form, whether it’s in coffee, tea, chocolate or an energy drink. A whopping 21,000 studies have been conducted on caffeine over the past 60 years, and despite that, researchers still have not reached any definitive conclusions as to whether caffeine is good or bad for us. From what different studies have shown, the answer is that it may be a little of both.
Too much caffeine can over-stimulate the nervous system, causing increased anxiety, heart palpitations, insomnia and other sleep disturbances. However, consuming coffee in moderation has been shown to have a protective effect, helping to guard against the development of many diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, gallstones, liver cancer and type 2 diabetes, to name just a few. Studies have also shown that it lowers the risk of stroke in women.
Coffee is currently believed to have more health benefits than dangers. Although too much coffee has been shown to lead to an increase in blood pressure, those who drink coffee every day have half the risk of dying from heart failure as those who abstain from the java completely. Cardiologist Dr. Matthew Sorrentino, professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, says, "If you don't have hypertension to begin with, the temporary blood pressure increase from a cup of coffee isn't a problem. Plus, the impact on blood pressure tends to be smaller in habitual caffeine drinkers because their bodies become somewhat tolerant to its effects."
Caffeine spurs the release of dopamine in the brain, which is the chemical responsible for problem solving, alertness and feelings of pleasure. An Austrian study found that drinking a cup of coffee boosted brain power for 45 minutes following ingestion, so drink a cup before taking a test or going to an important meeting where your mind needs to be at its sharpest. Scientists believe the dopamine-activating power of caffeine may be why they found that men who drink four or more cups of coffee each day have half the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease as those who drink none, according to a Harvard study.
The most current research indicates that there is no reason to be concerned about an increased risk of cancer or heart disease from drinking moderate amounts of coffee. The first studies that had been done on caffeine that reached such a conclusion have been shown to have had serious flaws. Primarily, they had not taken into consideration other significant lifestyle habits that went along with increased coffee drinking that have proven to be a major cause of these diseases, such as smoking and lack of exercise. Not only does caffeine not increase your risk of cancer, it has been shown to have a protective effect against many forms of the disease.
Studies have found that drinking even a few cups of coffee each day can cut a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer by as much as 30 percent, and those who can manage to down six cups of coffee each day reduce their risk by 60 percent of developing one of the more dangerous forms of prostate cancer.
Coffee also reduces your risk of developing basal cell carcinoma by up to 20 percent, according to a study published in the journal Cancer Research. The results of the study did not show that caffeine had a positive effect against other forms of skin cancer, but basal cell carcinoma is the most common. One of the authors of the study, Jiali Han, Ph.D., an associate professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health said, "These results really suggest that it is the caffeine in coffee that is responsible for the decreased risk of basal cell carcinoma associated with increasing coffee consumption. This would be consistent with published mouse data, which indicate caffeine can block skin tumor formation."
Another study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that women who drink coffee (four cups per day) have a 20 percent lower risk of depression than those who drink no coffee at all. Caffeine is known to enhance feelings of wellbeing and boosts energy.
Experts recommend that you ingest no more than 500-600 mg of caffeine per day (under 200 mg for pregnant women), which is equivalent to approximately 6 to 8 cups of brewed coffee. As a guide, following are a few typical amounts of caffeine in common foods:
• Cup of drip coffee: 140mg
• Cup of instant coffee: 100mg
• Cup of black tea: 75mg
• 12-oz. can of cola: 40mg
• 50g bar of dark chocolate: about 50 mg
• 50g bar of milk chocolate: about 25mg
The important thing is to consume coffee only in moderate amounts, particularly if you are pregnant or caffeine-sensitive. But the research seems to show that, at the end of the day, the benefits of coffee consumption outweigh most of the risks.