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The Caffeine Controversy: Should You Ditch Your Coffee?

November 20, 2012

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Lately there’s been tons of speculation about the benefits of caffeine consumption versus the risks. Last week the FDA released a report linking energy drinks, which contain high amounts of caffeine, with various health problems – sometimes even death. Since the report was released there has been a flurry of articles and reports about the health affects of caffeine, many of which are contradictory. So you’re probably wondering, what’s the real scoop?

Caffeine is a stimulant, which wakes you up and temporarily makes you more alert. It gives the central nervous system a jolt, lessening fatigue, speeding up metabolism and often improving mood. However, there are some adverse affects, too, especially if you aren’t used to caffeine. Caffeine increases your heart rate and causes a quick spike in blood pressure; it can therefore cause extreme bursts in energy, manifested in agitation and shaking. However, if you are accustomed to caffeine, as 54 percent of Americans are habitual coffee drinkers, it may take many cups of coffee to find that it has even the desired effect. 

NPR interviewed triathletes at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, many of whom use caffeine in the form of gels to enhance their performance in a legal way.  Caffeine has long been recognized as a way to energize and stimulate athletes, especially late in a race. An Australian study even showed that caffeine enabled sedentary men to train more vigorously.

So, since 54% of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee each day, and athletes use it to find a second wind, it is safe to consume at least some caffeine, right?

According to Time, caffeine in moderation is safe for most people. Leading health experts recommend about 300-500 mg of caffeine each day; to put that in perspective, an 8 oz. cup of coffee can contain between 100-150 mg of caffeine. However, experts do point out that there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation. The right amount varies by individual, making a strong case for bio-individuality.  Most of the pressing health issues that arise from drinking coffee are related to trouble sleeping, agitation and stress. If that sounds like you, start to cut down on the cups of coffee you drink. 

How many cups of coffee do you drink each day?