Millions – no billions of people around the world start their day with a cup of coffee. It’s the preferred drink for so many because it boosts mental alertness and helps get the day going. The magic ingredient in that seemingly innocent morning cup – that turns you on like a light switch – is caffeine.
Caffeine is the most extensively used stimulant on earth. You’ll find it in more than sixty different plants, including tea leaves, cocoa beans, and of course, coffee. It’s one of the only drugs the FDA approves for use in food and beverages.
Caffeine is classified as a stimulant drug because it increases activity in your brain and affects your central nervous system. In small doses, caffeine can give you focus and make you feel refreshed. Too much, and you may start to feel anxious and irritable, or worse.
For many of us, downing 3 cups of coffee plus an afternoon latte for good measure is a daily routine. If you’ve rarely thought about how this habit impacted your mind and body, the following blog explores the good, the bad, and the history of caffeine—knowing what’s too much verse what’s just right is essential if daily cups of joe are part of your routine.
History of Caffeine
The word caffeine originated in Germany from the word “kaffee,” and the French word “café” – both mean coffee. Both coffee and caffeine come from the Arabic word “qahweh.” The origins of these words reflect the spread of coffee from Arabia and Turkey to Europe.
Legend has it that a man named Kaldi first discovered the power of coffee by noticing that his goats perked up after eating the berries of the coffee-Arabica tree and subsequently had trouble sleeping at night.
Kaldi told a local monk about his jumpy goats, who then made a drink from the same berries. The monk realized his new brew made him alert and kept him from falling asleep during evening prayers. As the story of these potent berries spread through Arabia, so did its popularity.
Coffee arrived in Europe sometime during the 17th century. Once people experienced the rush of caffeine, coffee consumption spread like wildfire. It soon made its way to the Americas. By the end of the 18th-century, coffee was the most profitable export crop in the world.
And while tea is used more globally (and historians date tea drinking as far back as 2737 B.C.), coffee is far more popular specifically for its caffeine content.
Today, Finland is considered the largest caffeine consumer per capita, with each adult averaging 400mg per day (that’s about 4 cups). 80% of the world’s population drinks a caffeinated product every day, and this number goes up to 90% for adults in North America.
In some circles, caffeine has a bad reputation for its adverse effects on the nervous system and its link to anxiety and insomnia. However, research also shows caffeine has some health benefits.
Mood + Cognitive Function
Caffeine may block adenosine, a substance that forms brain-signaling molecules. Your brain reacts by increasing other signaling molecules, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. It’s believed that this change in brain messaging boosts your mood and brain function.
One study showed that after participants consumed caffeine from 4 cups of coffee, they had marked improvements in alertness, reaction time, and short-term recall. (2)
Metabolism + Fat Burning
Studies show that caffeine stimulates the central nervous system by increasing adrenaline levels in your bloodstream. This process sends signals to your fat cells to break down and promotes the release of fat from fat tissue. Caffeine may boost your body’s fat-burning ability by as much as 13% (3)
Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the rate that your body burns calories while at rest. The higher the rate, the easier it is to lose weight. Studies show that caffeine may increase resting metabolic rate by as much as 11%, with large doses of caffeine having a more significant effect. (4)
Keep in mind, caffeine’s fat-burning ability may be short-lived as the more you consume, the less tolerant you become to its effects. It may boost your metabolic rate and increase fat burning in the short team, but it will stop working after a while.
For some, caffeine can cause potential health problems, including sleep disruptions, anxiety, digestive issues, tremors, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, headaches, and frequent urination.
Caffeine, especially consumed after the noon hour, can disrupt night sleep. Any amount of sleep loss adds up and diminishes daytime alertness and performance.
And drinking cup after cup of coffee to offset the effects of sleep deprivation runs into a vicious cycle. Caffeine may prevent you from falling asleep at night, shortening your sleep time and increasing your need for caffeine when morning comes.
The Right Amount
Studies show that 400 mg of caffeine per day is safe for most healthy adults. That’s the amount of caffeine in four cups of regular coffee, ten cans of cola, or two energy drinks.
The actual level of caffeine varies widely in various beverages. For instance, one venti (20 oz) cup of Starbucks roasted coffee has 410 mg of caffeine while Dunkin’s same size cup has only 270mg.
Avoid caffeine if you notice a reaction with moderate amounts or if you are on certain medications. Pregnant women, those trying to become pregnant or breastfeeding, should consult with their doctors about limiting caffeine. Experts say no more than 200 mg daily.
Steer clear of caffeine in powder or liquid form. One teaspoon is equivalent to about 28 cups of coffee. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has warned that caffeine in powder or liquid form can be toxic, can cause serious health problems and possibly death.
In an ideal world, feeling upbeat, energetic, and focused happens naturally, without relying on a cup of joe – or other caffeine-heavy beverages. If you believe caffeine is propping you up, perhaps it’s time to examine your dependence.
Now, cutting back on caffeine can be a challenge. An abrupt halt is known to cause withdrawal symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and irritability. You may want to ease off gradually instead of going cold turkey. Try eliminating caffeine for 60 days to allow your body to reset itself – free of caffeine.
Light-to-moderate caffeine intake seems to provide some health benefits. On the other hand, too much can lead to side effects that can interfere with day-to-day living and could cause serious health risks.
To get the benefits of caffeine without the undesirable side effects, consider taking brain health supplements. One of the best is Stonehenge Health’s Dynamic Brain. This supplement contains 40 proven neuro-nutrients – including Huperzine A, Choline, DHA, Phosphatidylserine, and B-Vitamins.
A daily dose of Dynamic Brain fully supports your brain health, promotes optimal cognitive function, enables you to think more clearly, and like caffeine, provides a similar lift of alertness and natural stimulation. And think how much money you’ll save by skipping the coffee house brew.
1. Effect of caffeine on the metabolic responses of lipolysis and activated sweat gland density in human during physical activity | SpringerLink
2. Caffeine (1, 3, 7‐trimethylxanthine) in Foods: A Comprehensive Review on Consumption, Functionality, Safety, and Regulatory Matters – Heckman – 2010 – Journal of Food Science – Wiley Online Library
3. Caffeine and coffee: their influence on metabolic rate and substrate utilization in normal weight and obese individuals – PubMed (nih.gov)
4. Normal caffeine consumption: influence on thermogenesis and daily energy expenditure in lean and postobese human volunteers – PubMed (nih.gov)
5. Effect of a Thermogenic Beverage on 24‐Hour Energy Metabolism in Humans – Rudelle – 2007 – Obesity – Wiley Online Library
6. Caffeine: Effects, risks, and cautions (medicalnewstoday.com)