For millions of people all around the world, a morning coffee is a vital part of the morning routine. It wakes us up and gets our day off to a buzzing start.
But with our dependence on the black stuff growing as more and more drinks list caffeine in the ingredients, it’s important to keep a check on the effects it could be having on our health.
Unsurprisingly given its potency is the reason why so many of us favour it, espresso has the most caffeine, with up to 75mg of caffeine per shot on average. Generic brewed coffee is the next strongest at 19mg, followed by instant coffee at 12mg. If you prefer your coffee in ice-cream form, expect a hit of 7.5mg.
But it’s not just coffee you need to watch out for. Red Bull has 9mg of caffeine in it, black tea has 5mg and milk chocolate has 4mg. Coke and Diet Coke contain 3mg and 4mg of caffeine respectively.
There is a lot of mixed advice online regarding the benefits and dangers of caffeine. Health expert and NHS consultant Dr Sally Norton has helped us to cut through the crap by sharing her lowdown on whether or not quitting caffeine would actually be worth a morning of trying not to doze off in meetings.
There is bad news…
It can be bad for your heart
Some studies show it can reduce blood flow in your coronary arteries when you need it most – during exercise – as well as cause palpitations or irregular heartbeat and may possibly increase your blood pressure over time.
It disturbs your sleep
People who drink more than three cups of coffee per day are scientifically proven to have less than restful sleep. One study showed a difference of 79 minutes sleep between drinkers of caffeinated vs decaffeinated drinks. If you struggle to get to sleep then caffeine should definitely be a no-go. It takes about 5 hours to clear from our system – so drinking coffee after lunchtime is worth avoiding.
It is often linked with sugar
Even if we don’t add sugar to our coffee, we are often tempted to accompany it with a biscuit, cake or a breakfast muffin – particularly when encouraged to do so by high street chains. In addition, there can be 11 teaspoons of sugar in some varieties of coffee – our total recommended daily intake. The calorie count of these specialist coffees can be huge too so not good if you are watching your weight.
It’s bad for your mood
Caffeine increases catecholamines such as adrenaline – known as the “fight or flight” hormone. No surprise then that caffeine can make you tense and jittery in high quantities.
It can impact your fertility
Drinking more than five cups of coffee a day – the equivalent of about 500mg of caffeine – is linked with lower fertility. If you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s certainly worth cutting down, and once you are pregnant you’ll want to quit caffeine altogether or certainly cut back to less than 200mg per day as it may increase the risk of birth defects or reduce fetal growth.
…but there is also good news…
It can improve sports performance
Drinking a caffeinated drink before sport is associated with improved endurance and other sporting measures. It seems that caffeine increases heart rate but reduces the pain felt during exertion, encouraging us to push it that bit further.
It can increase mental alertness
Studies performed on people in stressful conditions showed improved concentration, learning and reaction time after 200mg caffeine. In addition, there is some evidence that it can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
It may reduce the risk of some diseases
Drinking coffee, though apparently of both caffeinated and decaffeinated types, is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. It is also associated with a reduced risk of some types of cancer. Coffee adds high levels of antioxidants to our diet (up to to 64 per cent in one study). Antioxidants protect us against various diseases, which may explain some of these benefits.
It may protect the liver
Fatty liver disease is becoming an increasing problem due to the combination of alcohol and obesity. Excess fat in the liver can cause inflammation and lead to cirrhosis. Some studies show that caffeine intake may be associated with a lower risk of fatty liver.
Caffeine cheers us up
Even just the smell of coffee can make us feel better and drinking it too is related to lower rates of depression. Not to mention the social element of relaxing with friends over a cuppa.
So, what do we do?
It seems that going cold-turkey on caffeine is not necessary – and we may even be worse off. Instead, we just need to be aware of how much we drink and avoid replacing caffeine with sugary drinks!