Is Caffeine Healthy? Does Caffeine Have Health Risks?

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Have you seen conflicting information on the health benefits and health risks of caffeine? Wondering if it’s safe for kids/teens to have caffeine? How about sports performance - does caffeine help? Here's a round-up of the current scientific evidence for caffeine and your health, caffeine for kids, and caffeine for sports performance.

Before we head in to answer these questions about caffeine, I’m excited to let you know that I have two new students working with me to help bring you these articles. Today’s post is the first one by Alyssa. Thank you Alyssa for this post!

 

Health Benefits of Coffee

Reduce Parkinsons and Alzheimers disease. Researchers say caffeine may be inhibiting free radical damage, thus preventing neurodegenerative diseases.

Decrease risk of developing heart disease and some cancers.Researchers found that those who did not consume caffeine were more likely to die from diseases of the heart, cardiovascular and respiratory system. Caffeine is being investigated for decreasing the risk of endometrial(uterine), colon, prostate, and liver cancers.

Reduction in headaches and/or pain perception. Researchers found that combining caffeine and ibuprofen or aspirin works more effectively to relieve pain.

Reduced constipation. Caffeine can stimulate colon contractions to keep stool moving along to be excreted.

 

Coffee Health Concerns (Too Much Caffeine Consumption)

Increased blood pressure. Scientists believe that caffeine may increase blood pressure. But the jury is out regarding whether the short-term rise in blood pressure that happens after caffeine has an impact on heart health. 

Headache. Too much caffeine can cause “caffeine rebound,” or headache from withdrawal of caffeine after continuous consumption.

Acid reflux/gastric distress. Heartburn is the most frequently reported symptom after caffeine consumption. Studies agree that caffeine can cause reflux.

Weakened bones by reduced calcium absorption. Caffeine can increase calcium excretion through urine. But there is not enough evidence to show a correlation between caffeine consumption and decreased bone density or strength.

Increased risk for miscarriage. Caffeine intake above approximately 300mg of caffeine may increase the risk of miscarriage, especially during the early days of pregnancy. 

 

Adult Caffeine Considerations

The effect of caffeine on the body depends on body composition. This is mainly why different people react differently to the same doses of caffeine. A person who weighs more may not notice the effects of caffeine. According to Health Canada and the Dietitians of Canada, consumption of less than 400mg of caffeine a day is deemed as safe for adults. 

 

Is It Safe for Children/Teenagers to have Caffeine?

The concern is that energy drinks, soft drinks, and chocolate bars may contain more caffeine than what is expected. There is insufficient evidence to support an appropriate dose of caffeine for children, however Dietitians of Canada have set a limit of 2.5mg/kg of body weight for children ages 12 and older. They have also recommended that children younger than 12 years old should not consume more than 45-85 mg per day. Why should kids avoid caffeine? Caffeine may increase symptoms of insomnia and restlessness. We know that sleep is crucial for learning, growth, and development for both children and adolescents.

 

How Much Caffeine is in Beverages/ Food

Health Canada has a good table of caffeine content here, However, note that they list the caffeine content for 8oz of beverages. The standard to-go coffee in Canada is 12oz (e.g. a Starbucks’ Tall). So, you need to add 50% more caffeine to those numbers if you’re a coffee shop frequenter: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/food-safety/food-additives/caffeine-foods/foods.html

The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can vary widely. Many of the larger chains list the caffeine content of their drinks. For Example:

The caffeine content of tea will increase the longer that you steep your tea.

If you’re Googling the caffeine content of your favourite drink, be sure to use a Canadian source. The food supply in the US can be different than our food supply here in Canada – including the caffeine content of products. 

 

Caffeine and Sports

There is some research that shows that caffeine intake can reduce pain perception and help performance for those who engage in exercise that involves endurance or strength training. Participants who consumed caffeine were able to demonstrate increased stamina or complete more repetitions to failure than participants who did not have caffeine. 

 

Final Thoughts

Alyssa:

I think it is up to you to determine whether or not to consume caffeine. People can have different reactions and tolerance levels to caffeine, and it is up to you to determine how much you need depending on your lifestyle or levels of tolerance. In this case, I believe balance is key, and knowing how to consume just enough caffeine to get through the day without having too much will be the best way to go. Also limiting consumption to certain days of the week when it is truly needed may help to prevent adverse effects of caffeine. Children and adolescents should also be mindful of the energy drinks and soft drinks they consume, and also limit themselves to a reasonable amount per week.

Kristen:

Full disclosure: I’m a caffeine drinker. I enjoy a 12oz cup of coffee in the morning and one in the afternoon. So, my intake is right up there at the 400mg mark. I also like to time my exercise for after my usual cup of coffee so that I can enjoy the benefits from the caffeine – yes I do notice it. I started drinking coffee at about 15 years old. Do I drink coffee for the health benefits? No. I drink it because I enjoy it – both the taste and the stimulation. It’s far too early to be recommending caffeine as a way to prevent heart disease, cancer or neurological disease. And, there are other ways to promote regular bowel movements. 

If you enjoy coffee, for most adults, I have no concerns with you continuing to enjoy it - in moderate amounts. Be sure to meet the recommendations for calcium for bone health. Have high blood pressure and enjoy your coffee? Explore other dietary and lifestyle habits to see if you can bring your blood pressure down and keep some coffee in your life. If you are trying to become pregnant, suspect that you may be, or know that you are pregnant, I recommend keeping your caffeine intake below 300mg. 

Since we don’t know that it’s safe, I don’t recommend caffeine for kids. But I certainly wouldn’t prevent kids from having chocolate because of it. My concern is more about kids and coffee and energy drinks. In my day, we kids bought Slurpees. Now kids get gigantic blended coffee drinks and energy drinks. They’re drinking just as much (or more) sugar as we did as kids and they’ve upped the ante with some big caffeine loads. Ugh. I recommend having a conversation with your teen about these drinks and finding a balance where they feel that they can enjoy social time with their friends but without putting their health at risk.        

Are you a coffee drinker? Then you'll want to check out this post on the timing of your first cup of coffee.

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash