Our ancestors have known about (and been taking advantage of) the stimulant effects of caffeine since about the 15th century, so you’d think we’d have a pretty good read on it by now.
Unfortunately, caffeine (particularly in our preferred delivery method: coffee) is a complex beast. One the one hand, caffeine raises your blood pressure, but frequent coffee drinkers are half as likely to die of heart failure as those who don’t have a java habit. Likewise, caffeine can spike your blood sugar, but a daily dose of coffee has been shown to lower your risk of diabetes.
Like most things, how much caffeine (if any) is right for you will be an individual choice. Read the latest research, then decide for yourself.
Caffeine fights Parkinson’s
Men who drink four cups of caffeinated coffee a day are half as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as those who don’t, according to Harvard researchers.
Why? Although not entirely sure, the researchers hypothesized that it is down to caffeine’s ability to keep dopamine molecules active
Drink coffee to stop Alzheimer’s
And speaking of that brain of yours, caffeine’s effects may also help fight Alzheimer’s. Blocking adenosine (the main reason coffee perks you up) may slow the buildup of amyloid-beta, a toxic brain plaque associated with the degenerative brain disease.
Caffeine fuels your workout
Drinking two cups of coffee just before a workout can help you lift more weight and reduce your perception of pain and physical exertion, according to a study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness.
Why? Caffeine blocks the pain and fatigue signals that your taxed muscles send to your brain, says study author Dr Michael Duncan.
Caffeine spikes your blood pressure
Caffeine has been found to cause short-term blood pressure spikes, according to a research review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, so if you have high blood pressure then you should keep your coffee intake to a minimum.
Caffeine may lessen your stroke risk
A study of 83,000 people found that those who drank more coffee had a slight decrease in their overall stroke risk, according to a paper published in Circulation.
Caffeine can actually help ADHD
Once thought to be a trigger for the disorder, caffeine is now considered by some as a potential treatment for ADHD.
Why? In moderate doses, caffeine has been shown to effectively enhance the ability to focus.
Caffeine is not your weight-loss friend
It may sound strange but despite its ability to rev your metabolism, caffeine is far from the best weight-loss supplement you can reach for.
Why? Consuming too much caffeine can also lead to the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which numerous studies have linked to weight gain.
Caffeine can also be a laxative
It’s the classic side-effect of your morning coffee, but it’s also the least understood. Researchers hypothesize that caffeine causes contractions in your large intestine, sending excrement down your pipes. Combine this with cortisol’s stimulant effect on your intestinal tract and you have a recipe for, well, you know . . .
Nature knows best
When it comes to choosing the source of your caffeine hit, almost all experts agree that natural sources of caffeine (think coffee, tea and dark chocolate) are far more beneficial than artificial sources, such as soft drinks and energy drinks.
Why? Aside from the obvious benefit of lower caffeine levels in coffee and tea compared to energy drinks, your natural sources also come with a respectable amount of antioxidants and do without the additives and sugar of artificial sources.
Caffeine is still a drug
Always remember that caffeine is a drug and a stimulant. Have too much and you’ll overdose, just like any other drug.
At doses greater than 500mg (around four cups of coffee), caffeine has been found to cause symptoms such as nervousness, irritability, insomnia, upset stomach, muscle tremors and irregular heartbeat.
Always remember, moderation is the key.