Can Caffeine Be Beneficial?

4 mins
January 24, 2018

Edú is a Mexican full-time Research Professor and Director of the Bachelor in Nutrition at Universidad del Istmo (campus Juchitán). He is a PhD in Education by CEVIP (Mexico) candidate. He holds a BSc in Nutrition and MSc in Food Security and Nutrition (both from Universidad Veracruzana (Mexico)) and McGill University (Canada).

For a long time, foods that contain caffeine have been thought of as harmful to one’s health. Many studies have shown that when consumed excessively caffeine can have significant effects on wellbeing including heart diseases, migraine and stomach upset. Notwithstanding, in moderate quantities, caffeine has its perks.

How much is enough?

Caffeine is a natural substance present in many products that are used in food. Some natural foods that contain caffeine are coffee beans, tea leaves, maté (a tea-like beverage), cocoa and chocolate. You will also find caffeine in soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and to a lesser extent in certain medications.

Recent studies have shown that 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is safe for adults. For a healthy adult, this translates into a daily maximum of

  1. 2 energy shots,
  2. 2-5 cans of energy drink (this varies depending on the amount of caffeine contained in one can of the energy drink),
  3. 4 cans of Afri Cola,
  4. 5 shots of espresso,
  5. 7 cups of instant coffee,
  6. 9 cans of Diet Coke
  7. 10 cups of black tea,
  8. 11 cans of Pepsi Cola
  9. 16 cups of green tea, or
  10. 120 cups of milo (a chocolate beverage)

(1 shot = 44-50ml, 1 cup = 250ml, 1 can = 350ml)

Drinking higher amounts of caffeine than what is safe could lead to serious health consequences and even death. It is important to drink beverages that contain caffeine in moderate quantities rather than using it as a sole source of water for rehydration during exercise or a strenuous activity.

Related: Exercise and Water: What You Need to Know

Within an hour of consumption, caffeine stimulates the body, reducing tiredness and increasing concentration. Generally, it takes 3 – 4 hours for its effects to wear out. However, the time required for the body to remove it out of the system varies greatly from one individual to another and this is largely influenced by factors such as age, liver function, the number of enzymes, pregnancy among others.

Caffeine and exercise

Caffeine could help fuel your workout. Some scientists mention that moderate doses of caffeine consumed 1 hour before exercising, improves performance. A recent study in Spain found that athletes who consumed some caffeine burned about 15% more calories than those who did not consume any caffeine.

Related: Exercise - How Much Is Enough?

Another study found that caffeine helps to reduce muscle soreness after exercise.

Its use as an ergogenic aid (performance enhancer) according to the literature is recommended for medium intensity exercises and long-term exercises, but not in those of short duration and long intensity. Further, it should be recommended by specialists in sports nutrition or a health professional, since there are variables that must be controlled.

Other benefits of caffeine

Research at Harvard University shows that caffeine reduces that drinking 4 to 5 cups of coffee daily could reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease by 50%.

Some German researchers have also found that caffeine stimulates hair growth. This could be some good news for bald men and women who have alopecia (a condition in women in which the hair line recedes). Nonetheless, this is not to say you should soak your head/hair in coffee or some other source of caffeine. Further studies are ongoing to find the appropriate ways to incorporate safe amounts of caffeine into products to ensure good hair growth.

Other remarkable benefits of caffeine include its ability to stimulate the central nervous system (increases alertness, cancels or reduces drowsiness, increases concentration) and reduce fatigue (or tiredness).

Eating a lot of caffeinated foods can cause dependency, which can cause you to increase your consumption, leading to an addiction. If it is ingested excessively, it can cause a nervous overexcitement and possibly cause chronic problems, or some that are evident and complicated to control, such as tachycardia (high heart rate), tremors, nervousness, sweating, anguish, headaches, lethargy, agitation, anxiety among others.

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