CHRISTINE J. PATRICK
COUNTY EXTENSION AGENT
What is Caffeine?
Caffeine is found naturally in the leaves, seeds, and fruits of more than 60 plant species worldwide. It is added to some beverages and foods for flavor. People have enjoyed caffeinated beverages since ancient times. Caffeine is a mild central nervous system stimulant that provides the safe kick that some people need to get started. It can help to fight fatigue, boost physical endurance, and enhance mental abilities and mood.
Caffeine Quick Facts
Caffeine & Health
Despite many years of research, caffeine’s effects on health are still unclear. Caffeine does not cause any physical harm to most people who consume moderate amounts. In addition, no scientific evidence has linked caffeine to developing any of the following health risks: cancer (any type), cardiovascular disease; ulcers; inflammatory bowel disease; fibrocystic breast disease (benign fibrous lumps); birth defects; infertility; or osteoporosis* (bone loss). *Osteoporosis is a disease of the bone that causes a loss in density, making bones weak and brittle.
Diuretic: Caffeine has a diuretic effect on the body, increasing water loss through urination. However, the water consumed in a cup of coffee, a glass of tea, or soft drink balances out the diuretic effects. Blood Pressure/Heartbeat: Caffeine can make the heart beat faster and is a possible contributor to an irregular heartbeat. Caffeine does not cause or worsen heart disease. In addition, it does not cause high blood pressure. After caffeine intake, some sensitive individuals can experience a temporary rise in blood pressure equal to climbing a flight of stairs. This increase only lasts for a few hours. If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor about caffeine consumption.
Blood Cholesterol: There is no scientific evidence that caffeine changes blood cholesterol levels. However, always brew coffee through a paper filter. People in other countries who drink boiled, unfiltered coffee do experience a rise in blood cholesterol levels.
Pregnancy/Breastfeeding: Moderate caffeine consumption does not reduce fertility in women, and it does not have adverse effects on pregnancy or outcomes. Pregnant women should limit caffeine intake to the equivalent of 1 to 2 cups of coffee daily. When breastfeeding, women should limit coffee consumption to under 3 cups per day. Drinking more than 3 cups per day can lead to increased wakefulness and poor feeding for the baby.
Bone Health: The relationship between caffeine and bone health is a relatively new area of study. It has been shown that caffeine intake can cause a slight and temporary rise in the amount of urinary calcium loss. On the other hand, studies show that getting enough calcium in the diet offsets the potential effect of caffeine on bone density. An adequate calcium intake, especially during adolescent years, is the best nutritional insurance for strong, healthy bones. Dietary calcium is found in dairy products, deep-green leafy vegetables, and fish with edible bones.
Women should consume caffeine in moderation while getting at least 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk or an equal amount of low-fat yogurt and/or low-fat cheese every day.
A recent study followed 60 to 70-year-old women’s caffeine intake for three years and found that those who drank nearly 3 cups of coffee a day could experience spinal bone loss. Researchers believe that older women’s increased bone thinning is due to their inability to offset the natural calcium loss that caffeine causes.
Disease Prevention: More research must be done before caffeine can be considered a “disease preventer.” However, caffeine may help protect against gallstones, cavities, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. In addition, it may serve as an analgesic, reduce headache pain, as well as help to decrease asthma attacks.
For information on caffeine, see HGIC 4152, Caffeine. This publication can be found on the web at http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/.
Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer
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