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Caffeine - Is it Good or Bad?

by dietitian Clare Wood

There is a lot of research on both humans and animals on the effects of caffeine, and there is often thoughts that too much is bad for us. There is no conclusive evidence to implicate caffeine consumption as being significantly harmful to health, but there still is controversy with this, as there is still some negative effects associated with caffeine consumption. Having some caffeine daily is ok, but using food and exercise strategies listed below, will certainly help in reducing fatigue and avoiding caffeine addiction.

Positive effects of our daily caffeine (coffee/tea) consumption.

Caffeine is a central nervous stimulant and can have some positive effects on the human body. Caffeine in low doses is thought to be associated with an improvement in sporting performance, increased alertness and reduction in fatigue potentially lifting a person’s mood. Coffee and tea also contain some antioxidants which have positive effects on heart health.

Negative effects of our daily caffeine (coffee/tea) consumption.

However, increased amounts of caffeine lead to dependency due to increased tolerance and hence the need for greater amounts to gain the same stimulatory benefits. Heavy users who have to go without can experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and fatigue. Too much caffeine can produce restlessness, nausea, sleep difficulties, upset stomach, increased urine production causing dehydration, and cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). It has also been associated with elevated blood pressure in sensitive persons.

Caffeine in a cupCaffeine - Is it good or bad?

What is the "right" amount of coffee/tea to consume every day?

The recommendation for safe drinking levels is 500mg per day, less for those with heart conditions, elevated blood pressure, and pregnant women. The average cup of instant coffee contains between 80 and 100mg/cup. The stronger the coffee the more caffeine it contains. Tea usually has less caffeine than this, except if it is very strongly brewed.

Effect of Age on the effects of Caffeine Ingestion

There is no evidence that the effect of caffeine changes with age, except that the older you are, the more likely you will be to have high blood pressure and heart problems.

Alternates to caffeine

Caffeine is becoming more popular as well as easier to access with drive-through coffee shops and the proliferation of energy drinks. People often rely on caffeine to combat fatigue. The biggest problem with coffee consumption is that tolerance increases and then people become more reliant on it and require greater dosages to get the same effects – it becomes a negative spiral and an addictive habit. There are many other ways to combat fatigue and food and exercise strategies can help. For details, see the page on Food and Fatigue.

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