Health benefits and risks associated with caffeine

Americans are hooked on caffeine. While moderate amounts of caffeine may prove to be safe and have some health benefits, larger doses can cause health problems.

October 9, 2018 - Author: Kris Swartzendruber, Michigan State University Extension

A cup of coffee in a white mug.

Americans love caffeine. Whether it’s a steaming, hot cup of java that helps jolt us into the morning, a big cup of diet cola that gets us through the mid-day slump, chocolate to help improve our mood or the chewable/drinkable stimulants that keep us awake for late night driving or studying, we love having caffeine throughout the day.

There has a been a good deal of debate surrounding the health effects of caffeine. Is it safe and how much is too much?

Caffeine has been proven to have some health benefits:

  • Research indicates that caffeine may help protect human brain cells, which lowers the risk of developing some diseases, such as Parkinson’s.
  • Regular cups of coffee may stimulate the gallbladder and reduce the risk of gallstones.
  • Caffeine causes the blood vessels to constrict, which may help relieve some headache pain.
  • Coffee reduces inflammation and may help prevent certain heart related illnesses.

Caffeine also has negative effects:

  • There is a significant association between drinking caffeinated coffee and the decrease of bone mineral density, which leads to osteoporosis. 
  • The daily consumption of caffeinated drinks can increase blood sugar levels and cause problems for people with diabetes.
  • Caffeine is a diuretic and can cause dehydration.
  • Caffeine can prevent some from falling asleep and interferes with deep sleep, which can lead to fatigue during the day.

The level of caffeine can vary depending on what is consumed. A piece of chocolate may have as little as five milligrams while energy drinks contain as much as 160 milligrams. Make sure to read the labels of pain medications and diet pills as products can have levels of caffeine as high as 200 milligrams.

 Michigan State University Extension recommends moderate doses of caffeine, 200 to 300 milligrams per day, which is equivalent to two to four cups of brewed coffee and is considered safe for most adults. If you are consuming more than 500 to 600 milligrams of caffeine per day, which equals four to seven cups of coffee, you may be prone to health problems including insomnia, nervousness, nausea or gastrointestinal problems, elevated heartbeat, headaches, etc.  If you are experiencing unusual side-effects associated with the consumption of foods with caffeine, you should consult your physician.

The following links contain additional information about caffeine:

Mayo Clinic - Caffeine: How much is too much?

Baseline of Health Foundation – Caffeine: Health Benefits and Health Risks

MSU Extension encourages individuals and communities to adopt healthy lifestyle choices. For more information about programs that focus on nutrition, contact your local MSU Extension office.

Tags: food & health, msu extension, nutrition


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