The Health Benefits (and Risks) of Drinking Caffeine
There’s something so comforting about that first sip of coffee: you feel warm from the inside out and energized to take on the day. Caffeine can’t be bad for you, right?
The short answer is: maybe? And it depends on who you are.
Caffeine is a naturally occurring compound that gives coffee and colas that energy-boosting zing – and it seems like doctors have mixed emotions about it. There have been reports showing that caffeine can deliver health benefits such as fighting inflammation, boosting metabolism, and possibly cutting risk for stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and heart failure. And it’s a good thing, since as many as 80 – 90% of Americans consume caffeine on a regular basis.
On the downside, too much caffeine can give you the jitters, make you lose sleep, raise your blood pressure, and can even cause a headache. It can also interfere with your body’s ability to absorb and use calcium, the mineral that is important for strong, healthy bones and teeth. Some people have medical conditions that can be made worse by caffeine. In rare cases, people can overdose on caffeine (but it’s usually when taken in pill form).
And caffeine addiction is a real thing. Over time, your body can develop a dependence on it, and when you don’t get it, you develop flu-like symptoms that include fatigue, headache, muscle soreness, lack of mental focus, and dehydration.
Who Should Limit Caffeine
- Those prone to migraines
- Anyone with high blood pressure
- Children and teens
- Ulcer suffers
- Those with irregular heart rhythms
Who Should Avoid Caffeine
- Pregnant women
- Breastfeeding women
- Require certain medications
Choose a Healthy Caffeine Source
Even if you tolerate caffeine well, some caffeinated drinks are better for you than others. If you need a little pick-me-up to get going, try some of the healthier alternatives and then avoid the rest.
This rich beverage has been savored around the world for hundreds of years. Still, many drinkers find it somewhat bitter, and add sugar or creamer to ease the taste. Instead, try more healthful alternatives such as cinnamon, almond milk, coconut cream, stevia, or honey.
These hot shots are actually just super-concentrated doses of coffee. Because of their tiny size, espresso shots don’t have as much caffeine as a cup of black coffee, but because it’s so potent, espresso has more caffeine per ounce. Usually consumed straight, espresso is a no-go for those with heart conditions.
Coffee-house Style Blended Coffee Drinks
Enjoy these sweet treats in moderation. Even if they provide the right dose of caffeine, they’re filled with sugar – many of them pack as many calories as a milkshake. All that sugar + a dose of caffeine = plummeting energy levels after the buzz wears off.
Drink these only occasionally – or better yet, not at all. Some energy drinks contain as much caffeine as three cups of coffee. In addition, most are loaded with sugar and herbal stimulants for extra kick. It’s too much for many people – in 2011, energy drinks sent more than 20,000 people to the emergency room.
Some teas will get your motor running, and also provide additional health benefits. Even though it doesn’t have quite as much caffeine, both green tea and oolong tea are good sources of antioxidants, which are thought to protect your cells from aging and disease. These teas taste very different from the herbal teas you might have tried; spoon in some honey or stevia to healthfully sweeten your cup.
A 12-oz can of soda has about half the caffeine of a cup of coffee, so you’re not going to get a lot of bang for your buck. Like blended coffee drinks, these should only be consumed as an occasional treat, since sodas are very high in sugar. Diet sodas aren’t much better: there have been (inconclusive) studies linking them to serious health conditions and weight gain.