Caffeine – it’s what gives coffee its kick and energy drinks their mojo.  In today’s fast-paced world, it fuels everything from college study sessions to long days at the office. People everywhere rely on it to help them get through the day, especially when sleep was disrupted (or just not enough) the night before. But what do we know about caffeine’s benefits and safety?

First, the upside. Studies have shown that moderate amounts of caffeine improve cognitive performance in most people, meaning it can help people focus, concentrate, and think more efficiently. Caffeine has also been shown to have a positive effect on mood, memory, reaction times, and physical performance. The most popular naturally-caffeinated beverages, coffee and tea, are some of the healthiest foods you can consume (just don’t add tons of sugar or syrups!)  Coffee and tea (green and black) contain healthful antioxidants and nutrients that are protective against a range of diseases, including type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer. In fact, well-designed studies have shown that up to five cups of coffee a day yields significant health benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of dementia. But beware: artificially caffeinated beverages, such as soda and “energy drinks”, do not offer the same health benefits. In fact, they often contain very unhealthy ingredients such as artificial colors, flavors, and loads of sugar. If your goal is a healthy lifestyle, these types of drinks should be avoided.

Any downsides? As with most things when it comes to your health, moderation is key. Too much caffeine can have unpleasant side effects, including feelings of restlessness (the “jitters”), stomach upset, heart palpitations, and increased anxiety. It can also cause insomnia, especially if consumed later in the day.

The bottom line? Caffeine can be safely and effectively used in moderation by most adults.  Everyone’s tolerance is different, so pay attention to how your body reacts when you consume caffeine, and adjust your intake accordingly.    

Submitted by: Emily R. Anastasio, Ph.D., Pediatric Neuropsychologist for Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage is a residential mental health treatment program in northwestern Wisconsin.

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