For a significant amount of people it is the way to start the day alert and cope with our busy routine. For others, it can be the reason they have been losing their sleep. What are the conclusions of the current scientific data- can it be included in a healthy lifestyle or it is about time we cut down on it?
Where can we find it?
The main source for getting a caffeine dose is coffee beans. However, significant amount is also found in the leaves of green and black tea, guarana, cocoa and chocolate, as well as specific soft drinks like coke and “energy” drinks.
What can it offer to the body and how it works:
Caffeine is one of the few substances that due to its size and solubility can get directly through the bloodstream inside our brain cells and trigger them to produce specific hormones that:
• regulate our feeling of tiredness,
• enhance our focus, memory and cognitive function
• manipulate the way that we recognise pain,
• even affect which fuel will be utilised from the body for energy.
One of the main effects of caffeine intake is its impact on athletic performance enhancement (you can find more information on caffeine and performance in my article here).
Other benefits from specifically coffee and tea consumption include potential liver disease prevention and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, as these beverages also provide a significant amount of antioxidants, however more studies are needed to determine this.
Caffeine and health:
In most cases the caffeine concentration in the blood peaks at about one hour after the ingestion, though the effect on the body tends to vary significantly between individuals. It should also be mentioned that most of the available evidence on caffeine is focused on coffee intake, but most caffeinated beverages vary in their caffeine content:
According to the current Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020 moderate coffee consumption providing up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults and can be incorporated into a healthy eating pattern.
More specifically, 400mg/day of caffeine is not associated with significant concerns for cardiovascular conditions, whereas most studies show that even higher intakes (up to 855mg/day) did not affect the risk for heart conditions in healthy adults. It is proposed though that people who suffer with hypertension (elevated blood pressure readings) should keep their consumption to lower than 400mg/day, as studies suggest that higher caffeine intake has been associated with increased blood pressure (by a few mmHg). However, no adverse effects have been reported on heart rate, heart rate variability or cholesterol.
In terms of reproduction, the recommended intake does not seem to affect fertility, and intake of up to 300 mg/day does not seem to affect any aspects of the pregnancy and childbirth. However, the current NHS recommendations suggest that pregnant women should keep their intake to less than 200mg/day.
Lastly, it should be noted that even though caffeine is not associated with anger, confusion or depression (though most of us caffeine addicts might have a different opinion on those symptoms and the lack of caffeine), caffeine consumption can increase anxiety and affect the sleep quality. Therefore, if you are not a habitual coffee/tea drinker, it is not suggested to start incorporating caffeinated drinks and beverages into your dietary habits.