Health benefits and risks associated with caffeine

Americans are hooked on caffeine. While moderate amounts of caffeine may prove to be safe and have some health benefits, larger doses can cause health problems.

Caffeine. Americans love it! Whether it’s the steaming, hot cup of java that helps jolt us into morning, the big cup of diet cola that get us through the mid-day slump, chocolate to help improve our mood or the chewable/drinkable stimulants that keep us awake for late night driving or studying.

There has been a good deal of debate surrounding the health effects of caffeine. Is it safe? How much is too much?

Caffeine has been proven to have some health benefits:

  • Research indicates that caffeine may help protect human brain cells, which lowers the risk of developing some diseases, such as Parkinson’s.
  • Regular cups of coffee may stimulate the gallbladder and reduce the risk of gallstones.
  • Caffeine causes blood vessels to constrict, which may help relieve some headache pain.
  • Coffee reduces inflammation and may help prevent certain heart related illnesses.

Caffeine also has negative health effects:

  • There is a significant association between drinking caffeinated coffee and the decrease of bone mineral density, which leads to osteoporosis.
  • The daily consumption of caffeinated drinks can increase blood sugar levels and cause problems for people with diabetes.
  • Caffeine is a diuretic and can cause dehydration.
  • Caffeine can prevent some from falling asleep and interferes with deep sleep, which can lead to fatigue during the day.

The level of caffeine can vary depending on what is consumed. A piece of chocolate may have as little as five milligrams, while some energy drinks contain as much as 160 milligrams. Make sure to read the labels of pain medications and diet pills as some products can have levels of caffeine as high as 200 milligrams.

Michigan State University Extension says that moderate doses of caffeine, 200 to 300 milligrams per day, equivalent to two to four cups of brewed coffee, is considered safe for most adults. However, if you are consuming more than 500 to 600 milligrams per day, which equals four to seven cups of coffee, you may be prone to health problems including insomnia, nervousness, nausea or gastrointestinal problems, elevated heartbeat, headaches, etc. If you are experiencing unusual side-effects associated with the consumption of foods that contain caffeine, you should consult your physician.

The following websites contain more information about caffeine:

http://www.jonbarron.org/article/caffeine-health-benefits-and-health-risks

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/caffeine/NU00600

http://www.foodinsight.org/Resources/Detail.aspx?topic=Fact_Sheet_Caffeine_and_Women_s_Health

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