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Caffiends rejoice: caffeine is (sort of) good for you

Author: The Simple Bit

Category: Science

The messages on caffeine are mixed. So what’s the science behind what it does to us, good and bad?

The simple bits:

  • Caffeine is a rich source of antioxidants
  • Antioxidants fight free radicals that can contribute to cell damage in your body
  • BUT you can overdo it
  • 400 mls (2-3 espressos worth) is the limit for most adults

 

The western world’s love affair with coffee has made its active ingredient the most widely used drug in the world. Odds are, you’ve already had several frappucinos today. That’s just science. 

So what is all that caffeine doing to you? And is it good for you? SPOILER ALERT: Sort of.

Smell the antioxidants. Pic by Gerson Cifuentes via Unsplash.

The Good:

Two words: antioxidants. Coffee is a good source of antioxidants. Some even claim it is one of the major sources of antioxidants in the Western diet because we drink it so regularly.

What’s so good about antioxidants? Well, they neutralise free radicals, which have been linked to a number of diseases, including heart disease, cancer and deterioration of the eye lens.

Coffee consumption has also been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, liver cancer and parkinson’s disease. But keep in mind that many of these studies are observational – they can show a link between the two, but can’t prove that coffee caused the reduction.

So a bit of coffee (and consequently caffeine) may be good for your body, but it may be good for your brain, too. Numerous studies have shown that caffeine can temporarily improve mood, reaction time, memory, vigilance and general brain function by blocking the effects of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine. This in turn releases other neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine to get your brain firing.

 

That 3pm latte was a bad call, Todd. Pic by Matthew T Rader via Unsplash

 

The Bad:

Newsflash: caffeine is a drug. And drugs are addictive. Stopping caffeine cold turkey can bring on headaches, tiredness, sweating, muscle pains and anxiety.

And anyone who has worked in an office with bottomless filter coffee can attest to, too much in one sitting can make you shaky, anxious and stop you from sleeping. And how much is too much? 400 mg of caffeine (2-3 espressos) is enough for most adults. 

The half-life of caffeine is 5-6 hours, which means it takes that long for half of the caffeine to leave your system. So too much caffeine before bed can disrupt your sleep, which we all know is bad for us.

The verdict:

Yeah man, a bit of coffee can be pretty good for you!

The jury is still out on JUST how good caffeine can be good for you, as many of the studies are observational. And the dangers of too much caffeine are not great. And if you’re slamming back full-strength espressos just to get an antioxidant boost, consider this: decaf is also super high in antioxidants. So if you’re getting the shakes, dial it back and stick to decaf.