Caffeine Guilt

If caffeine were to go on trial for all of the allegations against it, would it be convicted?  It's been accused of playing a role in several major diseases including heart disease, cancer, & osteoporosis.  It's the world's most popular stimulant - one that four out of five Americans partake in each day.  Does caffeine truly contribute to major disease or is it a harmless way to stay awake & alert?  Fortunately, most well done studies show that caffeine in moderate amounts probably won't hurt most people but there are some cautions.

Caffeine Myths:

➢    Alcohol:  caffeine may wake you up but it won't sober you up
➢    High Blood Pressure: caffeine may cause a slight, temporary rise in blood pressure but cutting back doesn't have a significant effect on hypertension
➢    Weight Loss: caffeine does not have any long-term effect on weight loss & has been banned from use in over-the-counter weight loss aids
➢    Heart Disease:  caffeine does not increase your risk of heart disease - early studies that showed that it did were before filtered coffee makers became popular. Unfiltered coffee does contain some substances that could raise cholesterol - but most people drink filtered coffee so the danger is negligible.
➢    Osteoporosis:  caffeine does not significantly increase risk of fracture however it does increase the calcium excretion so coffee drinkers need some extra calcium to make up for the loss

While caffeine can be exonerated on most of the allegations against it, it does have an effect on your body - some bad and some not so bad! Caffeine may:

➢    Boost athletic performance in moderate amounts - but it can also leave you feeling jittery and not well hydrated.
➢    Cause caffeine dependence!  Going cold turkey causes bad headaches so cut back slowly!
➢    Speed up reaction time but can make more complicated tasks - like complex word problems - more difficult.
➢    Disturb sleep - it is a stimulant & particularly interferes with REM sleep - the sleep that is so important for feeling fully refreshed.
➢    In moderate amounts, increase risk of low birth weight babies, infertility, miscarriage, & possibilities of birth defects.
➢    Reduce your risk of kidney stones!

So where is the caffeine? Some sources are obvious - colas, coffee, and tea. Some sources may surprise you such as some non-cola sodas like Mountain Dew and Mello Yellow and some over the counter pain killers like Excedrin. You can also find caffeine in many over the counter weight loss drugs. Most health experts recommend that moderate amounts of caffeine - the equivalent of two 5 - 6 ounce cups per day - are probably not harmful to most people.

Planning on cutting back? Do it slowly or else you may experience an excruciating headache that won't go away - merely a painful reminder of it's addictive nature! Putting half decaf and half regular in your coffee maker is a good start. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant you may want to consume as little caffeine as possible - just to be on the safe side.  

The bottom line? Don't give up that cup o' Joe - just cut back a bit! We usually recommend 200 to 300 mg or less per day:  

Caffeine Count:

1 cup of coffee (8 ounces): 130 mg
1 cup of hot tea (6 ounces): 40 mg
1 can of Coke: 46 mg
1 can of Mountain Dew:  54 mg
1.55 ounce chocolate bar: 10 mg

Are you a coffee lover? Find out more about the possible health benefits of coffee.

Beth Kitchin, Ph.D., RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences