Caffeine is a plant compound that acts as a stimulant in the human body. It occurs naturally in coffee beans, tea leaves (black, green, white, but not herbals), and cacao beans used to make chocolate confections. Caffeine is also added to energy drinks, sodas, and some supplements. Just like alcohol, caffeine is classified as a drug.
Protective from Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Parkinson’s disease
Reduces risk of certain cancers
Improves physical performance
Increases metabolism to burn fat
Lowers Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Stroke risk
What the science says:
How it works:
One of the primary reasons humans consume caffeine is for mental alertness. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that normally builds up in your brain throughout the day, relaxing you and building your appetite for sleep by night time. When you sleep, adenosine is cleared from your brain for you to wake and start this process of building it up again the next day. Caffeine attaches to the adenosine receptors in your brain, blocking their activity and preventing sleepiness.
Caffeine also stimulates adrenaline and, therefore, dopamine and norepinephrine, leading to increased wakefulness and mental attention. While this can act as quickly as within 20 minutes of a cup of Joe, it can take up to 1 hour to take full effect. Caffeine takes much longer to be cleared from your system because of its relatively long half-life. Scientists estimate this half-life to be 5 hours on average. However, it can range from 1.5-9.5 hours depending on personal tolerance, weight, hormones (particularly women on hormonal contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy), and genetic differences in your body’s ability to detoxify substances. If you are within the 5-hour average half-life and consume 2 cups of coffee each morning:
8 am: 2 cups of coffee = 400 mg
1 pm (5 hours later): 200 mg left
6 pm (5 hours later): 100 mg left
11 pm (5 hours later): 50 mg left
4 am (5 hours later): 25 mg left
9 am (5 hours later): 12.5 mg left + 400 mg from your fresh 2 cups
For some, this may not be problematic. Still, for others, it can add up over time and be just enough to disrupt their ability to get quality sleep, manage their anxiety, or may contribute to chronic headaches, migraines, high blood pressure, and heartburn.
Though, for many, caffeine has a plethora of benefits!
For Trained Athletes:
Caffeine has been shown to enhance athletic performance in the short-term by activating the nervous system into “fight or flight” mode, activating muscles via the motor cortex in the brain, and shifting energy system usage to more fats rather than glycogen. The last is particularly helpful for endurance athletes. For non-trained athletes, the research on caffeine for performance enhancement is mixed or even detrimental in some instances due to cardiovascular risks (elevated HR and blood pressure) and unwanted side effects such as tremors, dizziness, stomach discomfort, and anxiety.
For Mood & Cognition:
Caffeine has been shown to improve alertness, mood, reaction times, short-term memory recall and reduce the risk of depression and suicide. When consumed in the form of coffee and tea that have other bioactive and beneficial compounds, caffeine may additionally support healthy neurology, preventing cognitive decline such as in Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. Tea, in particular, contains L-theanine, which can promote dopamine and GABA activity and increases alpha brain waves - leading to a more relaxed alertness and improved brain function.
For Cardiometabolic Risk:
Coffee and tea drinkers have repeatedly been shown to have decreased cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke risk. The protective effect is thought to be mostly from the caffeine itself but partly from the antioxidants, nutrients, and other bioactive compounds. It is the same protective effect shown in decaf coffee drinkers. However, those with a history or family history of high blood pressure should be cautious and monitor their blood pressure with any caffeine consumption. Understanding your unique physiology is essential.
For Gut Health:
This one is a mix. For some, caffeine and particularly coffee can increase beneficial bacteria, promote bowel regularity and reduce the risk of oral and throat cancers. However, for others, it can increase their reflux/heartburn or GERD symptoms, which in turn can increase the risk for stomach, esophageal, throat, and even oral cancers. This is a “know thyself” area where you’ll need to pay attention to your symptoms, how your digestion feels, and talk to your medical and Apeiron Life team about your individual risks vs. benefits.
For Longevity & Cancer Risk:
As mentioned, coffee, green, black and white tea, and dark chocolate contain potent antioxidants and other active and beneficial compounds. Caffeine itself can increase thermogenesis (heat production) by increasing your metabolic rate and fat burning. Together, these activities have been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers (i.e. liver, colorectal, and skin) and generally promote a longer disease-free life.
The Apeiron Life Perspective
As with all foods and beverages, moderation is the key. For a healthy non-pregnant adult, caffeine consumption should not exceed 400 mg per day. For reference, below are the mg of caffeine in common foods/beverages. As you can see, this can still vary widely by brand and brew. The general rule of thumb is to stick with 2 (8 oz) cups of coffee per day or less and consume them before noon. Additionally, keep in mind, the added sugars and fats can make the otherwise healthful choices not so healthful. Minimize additives or ask your Apeiron Life Registered Dietitian for better alternatives.
Espresso (8 oz): 240–720 mg
Black coffee (8 oz): 102–200 mg
Decaffeinated coffee (8 oz): 3–12 mg
Yerba mate (8 oz): 65–130 mg
Brewed green and black teas (8 oz): 40–120 mg
Dark chocolate (1 oz): 5-35 mg
Energy drinks (8 oz): 50–160 mg
Energy shot (1 oz): 215 mg
Soft drinks (8 oz): 20–40 mg
Cocoa beverage (8 oz): 2–7 mg
Chocolate milk (8 oz): 2–7 mg
Will this benefit you?
If you don’t currently consume caffeine, no need to start. There are plenty of other ways to get the health benefits associated with these beverages, including through other whole plant foods.
If you do currently consume caffeine, aim to stick with quality options such as black coffee, tea, and 90% or above dark chocolate. Minimize or avoid soda, energy drinks, and supplements that contain caffeine as they generally do not have the redeeming nutrients that coffee, tea, and cacao do.
We generally advise against the use of caffeine supplements such as NoDoz caffeine tablets and Excedrin Migraine as they can fuel dependence and, if taken regularly, are usually masking symptoms of an underlying condition. Our aim is always to support your true health for years to come, not just mask symptoms. If currently using, talk with your Apeiron Life team on strategies to gradually reduce your use of caffeine supplements.
Remember, for stable energy; a healthy lifestyle should come first.
Hydrate well - urinate often and nearly clear.
Sleep 7-8 hours each night.
Avoid daytime naps if you can.
Eat ample whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts/seeds, lean meats), which may help provide energy without the crash of processed foods.
Exercise or be physically active daily, but not too close to bedtime.
Always opt for Organic. Coffee and tea are notoriously ridden with pesticides and even other fillers if not organic.
Opt for Fair Trade Certified brands. Since most coffee, tea and chocolate are grown outside of the United States, many of these farmers do not earn a living wage. Fair Trade Certified ensures those growing and harvesting your products are paid a liveable wage.
Timing: Consume your caffeine all before noon. Yes, this might mean a 90-95% dark chocolate square with breakfast, especially if you know you’re a strong responder to caffeine. Go for it!
Blood Pressure: If you have high blood pressure or a family history, be aware of how caffeine impacts your blood pressure and minimize or switch to decaf options.
Sleep: If you notice you have trouble sleeping at night or need supplements or medications to help you fall asleep, caffeine may be one of the culprits. Taper yourself off caffeine and pay attention to the impacts over a few weeks.
Additives: Do you add cream or sugar to your coffee or tea? While the caffeine and anti-inflammatory compounds in coffee/tea are beneficial, this can be negated by the inflammatory nature (and added calories) of cream and sugar. Moderation is best.
If you have questions regarding your caffeine intake, reach out to your Apeiron Life Client Advocate for more information.