Every few months, yet another study emerges either hailing the benefits of caffeine or listing its pitfalls. It’s no wonder people are confused. This week I will discuss the health implications linked to caffeine and look at if and when caffeine is appropriate to have.

First of all, caffeine isn’t just about coffee: it’s found in tea (26-116mg), fizzy drinks (30-55mg), energy drinks (75-160mg), chocolate milk (100-150mg), coffee (40-176mg), and pain relief medicine (56 -120 mg)……. to name but a few.

Caffeine is a stimulant and can be a mood booster. It stimulates the release of a neurotransmitter, Dopamine which activates the area of your brain responsible for productivity and alertness. This is probably why caffeine is the second most common drink (after water) consumed in the world. It’s also been shown to contain some antioxidants and has been shown to lower the risk for oral cancer. Caffeine will also temporarily raise your metabolism.

But before you rush off to grab a cup of coffee, there are some concerns and guidelines that you must consider:

How you process caffeine is very individual; some people metabolise caffeine very quickly while others struggle to metabolise it and have some intense reactions to it. Caffeine is like every other drug; the more you are exposed to it the less sensitive you become to it, so greater doses must be ingested to illicit the same response.

Caffeine is a stimulant so when consumed it will trigger the stress response (sympathetic nervous system), which is responsible for increasing your heart rate, shunting blood away from your digestive system, tensing up the muscles, raising your blood sugar levels and your blood pressure. The vast majority of people are already over stimulating their stress responses, so further stimulating this through a drug is not be advisable.

The increased focus that many people experience when they take caffeine is caused by the temporary increase at which the brain burns through fuel and which increases short term memory recall. However this leads to an overall decrease in blood flow to the brain which in turn causes an overall decrease in memory recall (this can often be why regular caffeine drinkers become sluggish and experience a lack of coherence later in the day after taking caffeine).

As caffeine is a stimulant it makes sense that it has a negative effect on sleep. It takes approximately 5-7 hours, on average, to eliminate half of the caffeine from your body. After eight to 10 hours, 75% of the caffeine is gone. Consuming caffeine in the afternoon or evening will undoubtedly negatively affect the coming nights’ sleep. And as we all know sleep is one of the major cornerstones in achieving optimal health and promoting a lean body that performs well.

The short term effects of a raised metabolism are not enough to suggest that caffeine should be used as a weight loss strategy. In fact, two very strong reasons that suggest that caffeine impedes weight loss are caffeine spikes the release of the hormone Cortisol. Cortisol increases the body’s ability to store fat as well as reduces it capabilities of building muscle. Secondly, you are more likely to crave sugary, fatty foods after consuming caffeine because it raises your blood sugar levels as part of the stress response.
But it’s not all bad and some sources are better than others: caffeine consumed in teas and in particular green teas is, by far, a better choice than caffeine consumed in sugary and preservative laden energy drinks.

If you regularly experience any of the following caffeine should be avoided or reduced.

  1. The need for regular consumption (daily etc)
  2. Trouble sleeping
  3. Difficulty losing weight
  4. Regularly feel fatigued
  5. Suffer from anxiety
  6. Regularly feel irritable
  7. Have digestive problems
  8. Headaches

As caffeine can have very different effects on individuals it can often be difficult to give specific guidelines, however there are a few common sense rules that will allow you to safely consume caffeine without having a negative effect on your health. Caffeine should only be consumed in small doses and only when you have the rest of your lifestyle in balance (eating well, regular exercise, good sleeping patterns, controlled stress levels etc.). It is best to consume food before consuming caffeine as caffeine on an empty stomach may disturb your digestive systems. There may be times such as when you have had a few poor night of sleep or have something very important that you must focus on and using caffeine as a short term solution is ok.

I hope this has helped to clear up some of the issues around caffeine and has given you some ideas on how to best utilise caffeine for optimal health and wellbeing.