All around the world we seem to rely on the natural stimulant to help us feel more awake, but this has caused a great many to wonder “is caffeine bad for you?”
For so many of us, caffeine forms a large part of our lives. We wake up to a mug of coffee in the morning, sip at cups of tea throughout the day and some even enjoy a pick me up with an energy drink. All around the world we seem to rely on the natural stimulant to help us feel more awake, but this has caused a great many to wonder “is caffeine bad for you?”
Firstly, it’s important to know that caffeine is a natural stimulant that’s found in tea, coffee and cacao plants. Once ingested, it stimulates the brain and central nervous system, helping you to feel more alert, whilst also preventing feelings of tiredness.
Once you’ve consumed caffeine it’s absorbed by your gut and into the bloodstream, then it’ll travel to the liver and be broken down into compounds which affects the functions of vital organs. However, the main impact of caffeine is seen in the brain. It actually blocks out the effect of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that relaxes the brain and makes you feel tired. Adenosine naturally builds up over the day, making you gradually feel more and more tired until eventually you’ll need to sleep. As it impacts the brain, it’s known as a ‘psychoactive drug’.
Around 400mg (roughly works out to around four cups of coffee) of caffeine each day is generally enough for most adults, any more than this and you may experience negative side effects. It’s important to consider that everyone’s different and some individuals may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others.
Yes and no. It’s usually considered safe and there’s even been some health benefits linked to a moderate intake of caffeine such as a reduced risk of developing certain cancers, brain issues and liver problems. But, if you consume more than the daily recommended intake, you may experience some negative side effects.
Here’s some of the negative side affects you may see from consuming too much caffeine:
As caffeine increases alertness by blocking adenosine, this triggers the release of adrenaline which could lead to anxiety and nervousness. When consuming extremely high doses (over 1000mg per day), caffeine is likely to cause nervousness and jitteriness in even the most seasoned of caffeine consumers. These effects will be seen at a much lower dosage in caffeine sensitive people. If you’re prone to anxiety or anxiety-related disorders, it may be best to avoid high amounts of caffeine.
Too much caffeine can make it difficult for you to get enough sleep and the more you consume, the longer it’ll take you to fall asleep. Where this doesn’t tend to be a concern for those consuming a low to moderate amount, the time of day you consume it does have an impact. If you have caffeine late in the day or evening it can negatively affect sleep as caffeine remains in your system from anywhere between one and a half to nine hours, depending on the person in question. The average caffeine tends to stay in your system is around five hours!
Many people know of the laxative effect that comes with a cup of coffee, but did you know that this is because it releases gastrin, a hormone produced by the stomach to speed up colon activity? Interestingly, even decaffeinated coffee has this effect, but caffeine itself does actually stimulate bowel movements. This is due to the fact it increases peristalsis which are contractions which move your food from your digestive tract. With this in mind, caffeine could be bad for you if you have a sensitive stomach.
As caffeine is a stimulant, high amounts could be bad for you as it can increase your heart rate. It may also be linked to altered heartbeat rhythm, and a condition known as ‘atrial fibrillation’ which has been reported in younger people who drink energy drinks with high caffeine content. Where it doesn’t occur in everyone and some people will be able to have a lot and not see any negative impact, if you notice your heart rate increasing whilst consuming caffeine, stop right away. Additionally, if you have heart issues or are at an increased risk of developing them, caffeine could be bad for you, so it’s best to avoid it.
When it comes to the question of “is caffeine bad for you?” the first thing many people will think is: “yes, because it’s habit forming.” Caffeine use disorder is actually very common and many individuals end up becoming dependent on it. Additionally, if intake is reduced at any point, you can experience caffeine withdrawal which may lead to symptoms such as: tiredness, headache, reduced energy, sleepiness, low mood, concentration problems and irritability.
Pregnant individuals are often told to avoid caffeine during pregnancy and this is because it can negatively impact the growth and birth of the new-born child. A study carried out in 2013 found that consuming 300mg of caffeine a day during pregnancy could cause babies to be born with a low birth weight and due to the fact it can easily cross the placenta, it could increase the risk of miscarriage too.
Caffeine can negatively impact some medications such as the muscle relaxant Zanaflex and antidepressant Luvox in which it can actually increase the effects. If you’re taking medications, always make sure you read the leaflet to ensure that caffeine is safe to consume whilst taking them and if you’re unsure, consult your doctor.
The above listed side effects can vary from person to person and it generally depends on how caffeine-sensitive you are. If you don’t consume caffeine regularly, it may have more of a negative impact on you. Additionally, if you have any pre-existing conditions, particularly ones to do with your heart or digestive tract, caffeine could be bad for you and should be avoided. If you’re unsure, always speak to your doctor.
That’s our guide on whether caffeine is bad for you and the potential side effects that go with regularly consuming too much. Looking to reduce your intake? Read our guide on alternatives to caffeine, next.