By Kristi Eaton
VIEW ON HEALTH
Caffeine has received a bad rap for years, with the media dwelling on the dangerous and harmful effects caffeine can have on the body. While too much can be detrimental, research shows that moderate amounts of the stimulant can actually be good for your health.
Caffeine, the most widely consumed stimulant in the world, can be found in everything from coffee and tea to chocolate and soft drinks like Coca Cola. In recent years, a litany of energy drinks, packed with large amounts of caffeine, have appeared on the market, and soap and shampoo companies are now putting the stimulant in some of their products, claiming it can improve the skin.
But as the number of products with caffeine increases, so too does the criticism about its use and consumption. Following are some of the positives and negatives of caffeine to help find the truth behind the stimulant that more than 80 percent of Americans consume on a daily basis.
CAFFEINE PROMOTES WAKEFULNESS
The No. 1 reason most people consume caffeine it to wake up in the morning or help stay awake during periods of drowsiness. But how much is the right amount? Research shows that a steady stream of low amounts of caffeine can promote wakefulness throughout the day. In 2004, scientists within the Division of Sleep Medicine of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School’s Department of Medicine showed that small doses of 0.3 mg (about 20 mg per hour) was effective in “countering the detrimental performance effects of extended wakefulness.” Another study from The Institute for Sleep and Fatigue Medicine at Israel’s Chaim Sheba Medical Center found 200 mg of caffeine is effective at combating the dip in cognitive performance often experienced at night.
However, like with most things, too much of a good thing is possible with caffeine. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic say moderate doses of caffeine — about 200 to 300 mgs per day, or two to three cups of brewed coffee per day — are not harmful for the average person. But consuming large amounts — around 500 to 600 mgs, or four to seven cups of coffee — can start producing side effects like insomnia, nervousness, irritability, headaches and muscle tremors.
Scientists at John Hopkins University have called for warning labels on energy drinks, saying consumers need to be well aware of the amount of caffeine they are buying in the product.
“The caffeine content of energy drinks varies over a 10-fold range, with some containing the equivalent of 14 cans of Coca-Cola, yet the caffeine amounts are often unlabeled and few include warnings about the potential health risks of caffeine intoxication,” said Roland Griffiths, one of the scientists who called for the change in an article published in a 2008 issues of Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Without prominent labels, Griffiths said, people have no idea how much they are consuming. “It’s like drinking a serving of an alcoholic beverage and not knowing if its beer or scotch,” he said in a statement.
REGULAR COFFEE DRINKERS MAY LIVE LONGER
In a 2008 Annals of Internal Medicine, scientists reported that women who drank two to three cups of caffeinated coffee per day had a 25 percent less risk of dying from heart disease compared to non-coffee drinkers. They also had an 18 percent lower risk of death from a cause other than cancer or heart disease compared with non-coffee drinkers.In addition, several studies have shown regularly drinking coffee lowers the risk of strokes for women, and may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease for people with high cholesterol.
CAFFEINE CAN PROTECT AND IMPROVE YOUR SKIN
Several studies have shown that caffeine can decrease the chances of skin cancer. Scientists found that in cells damaged by UV rays, caffeine interrupted a protein called ATR-Chk1, causing the damaged cells to self-destruct. There is no effect on undamaged cells, according to the research team from the University of Washington in Seattle
The stimulant is also popular among dermatologists for facial flushing because caffeine constricts blood vessels.
“For that reason, caffeine can be a tremendous boon to those who suffer from rosacea, which is essentially caused by frequently dilated blood vessels that lose their ability to contract,” said Leslie Baumann, a former professor at the University of Miami’s Cosmetic Center and Cosmetic Medicine & Research Institute.
Caffeine’s ability to constrict blood vessels also makes it popular as an eye cream ingredient because it alleviates puffiness and redness, added Baumann, author of The Skin Type Solution
You can recover from workouts faster by consuming caffeine
A study from scientists at the University of Georgia published in The Journal of Pain said moderate amounts of caffeine — about two cups of coffee — post-workout helped ease muscle pain by up to 48 percent.
In explaining the findings, co-author UGA professor Patrick O’Connor said the caffeine likely blocks the body’s receptors for adenosine, a chemical released in response to inflammation. It’s unclear, however, if the findings are the same for people who regularly consume caffeine.
CAFFEINE CAN BE CONSUMED DURING PREGNANCY
Gone are the days where it’s believe that women should not have a single sip of coffee or soda while pregnant. However, during pregnancy it’s even more vital to consume in moderation. Caffeine crosses the placenta into the baby, so even though you may be able to handle the amount of caffeine consumed, the baby will not be able to properly metabolize it. This can affect the baby’s heart rate, according to the Mayo Clinic. Studies differ on the whether caffeine consumption has any impact on miscarriages or low-birth weight. But experts tend to agree that a moderate amount of caffeine is OK.