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Facts About Caffeine

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

Are you one of those who get through the day relying on multiple cups of coffee?

If so, you are not alone!

Caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea are the most consumed socially accepted stimulants in the world.

Nine out of 10 adults in the world consume some form of caffeine on a daily basis.

More than half of the US population drink coffee on a daily basis. The average consumption is about two cups per day.

I am on my third cup of coffee as I am writing this.

But do you ever wonder if drinking that much coffee is bad for you?

Bad for your heart?

Will it effect your sleep quality?

Over the years doctors and scientists have flip flopped on the potential health benefits of caffeine.

Here is what we know about caffeine.

Coffee and tea are known to contain several components that may confer both beneficial and adverse health effects.

When looking at the association of coffee consumption and risk of death, one study found that moderate coffee consumption was associated with decreased risk of heart disease related as well as all cause mortality.

However, the study participants were ALL healthy so the result should be interpreted with caution. But this is not an isolated finding as several studies have found that coffee consumption was associated with a range of health benefits.

Although not definitive, a review article found that the consumption of 2–5 standard cups of coffee per day was associated with reduced mortality and concluded that consumption of more than 5 cups per day was associated with lower or similar risks of all cause mortality than no consumption. This should be taken with a grain of salt. But it is promising.

What happens when caffeine is consumed?

Once it enters the body, it is rapidly absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and metabolized by the liver.

It is a stimulant that causes the release of excitatory neurotransmitters.

The physiologic effects of caffeine are dose dependent. It can influence cognition and mood, this effect is seen both short term and long term.

In rested individuals, caffeine in low and moderate doses, not exceeding 300 mg, improves vigilance and reaction time.

In those who are chronically sleep deprived like me, a surgeon, the effects can have a positive impact on learning and decision making.

Perhaps the main reason most of us consume caffeinated drinks is the increased alertness, mental energy, and ability to concentrate.

I do not know anyone in my line of work who does not drink coffee.

Caffeine is also a potent stimulator of smooth muscles in the gastrointestinal system and may decrease constipation or potentially cause diarrhea.

Caffeine can potentially alleviate headache symptoms. It has long been used for its analgesic properties in the treatment of headache and is frequently used alone or in combination with other medications.

Caffeine consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, although this has not been definitively proven.

Further, as mentioned above, moderate coffee consumption may be protective against having a heart attack.

There has been discussion about coffee or caffeinated drinks causing cancer. To date there is no definitive data in humans that caffeinated drinks cause any type of cancer.

In fact, coffee and tea may reduce the risk of cancer because of their antioxidant properties. This is theoretical and has not been proven.

How much is too much?

For the most part, in adults, not exceeding 400 mg of caffeine a day appears to be safe. Like most things in life, moderation is key.

Many of us depend on caffeine on a daily basis, since it enhances our mental performance and mood.

Excessive intake can have negative health effects. These may include palpitations, tremor, agitation, and gastrointestinal upset.

Is it possible to become dependent on caffeine?

Caffeine use disorder is identified as a research diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Although this term is being used, I have not seen or read anything that meets the definition of dependence when it comes to caffeine consumption.

Caffeine withdrawal syndrome is a term that is sometimes used as well but there is no study that supports the existence of a caffeine withdrawal syndrome.

While the data generally show that caffeine has little or no detrimental health effects everyone reacts to caffeine differently. While it is suggested that three to five cups of coffee has some health benefits, high caffeine intake can still have negative impacts on certain individuals due to variations in personal metabolism and sensitivity to caffeine.

To conclude, caffeine is the most consumed stimulant in the world, usually in the form of coffee and tea. For the majority of us, consuming less than 400 mg of caffeine a day appears to be safe and free of any adverse events.

So go enjoy your cup of coffee.

Please remember that medical information provided by us must be considered an educational service only. This blog should not be relied upon as medical judgement and does not replace your physician’s independent judgement. This is NOT medical advice. Please seek the advice of your physician.

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