According to the U.S. Government’s Food and Drug Administration, 90% of the world’s population ingests some form of caffeine. So let me just say that, in one respect, I’m glad we’ve finally found something that nearly all of us can agree upon.
Caffeine is quite literally everywhere. You could even argue that it’s done a lot of good in this world. It has put doctors through medical school, it has given elite athletes the energy to push through on those “off” days, it has fueled countless first dates, late nights, early mornings, and projects that came in just under the wire.
It might seem a little ungrateful, then, to start asking the question is caffeine bad for you? After all, 6,300,000,000 people can’t be wrong … can they?
Well, maybe not wrong, but like everything else we consume, caffeine can have some negative side effects that you should be aware of—especially when used in excess.
First, the Good News (for coffee drinkers – that is!)
Caffeine comes in lots of forms, but since it seems like most of today’s business world is smitten with coffee, we’ll just discuss it and caffeine at the same time today.
Those who must get their morning caffeine fix often point to the added health benefits of coffee; especially coffee that is devoid of creamers and sugar. They are right too. There are a number of advantages, and some of them can actually be quite significant.
To begin with, the European Journal of Neurology published an article in 2002 suggesting that coffee may protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, there are two significant studies that suggest that coffee lowers the risk of Parkinson’s disease, one of which found this to be the case even when genetic factors were in play.
So those are two pretty big things. And while there are many other factors, both environmental and genetic, that can be involved with those two diseases, it is still something worth considering when it comes to coffee consumption—particularly if you have a family history of those diseases.
There are also many, many other health benefits that have been linked with coffee consumption outlined in peer-reviewed journals. They are too numerous to cover here, but you can find them easily enough on the web. Take a look and decide for yourself and see if you find the data convincing.
Look carefully, though, and ask some probing questions. For example, how much coffee are those in the study consuming? One cup per day, per week, per hour? Does the type of coffee make a difference? Does it have to be freshly ground? Can it be decaffeinated? Did Starbucks fund the study?
The Downside of Coffee
When you ask the question is caffeine bad for you, you should first consider that it is a highly addictive substance. We all know that, of course. If you are a coffee drinker who has somehow been deprived of your morning coffee, you know it all too well. The withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe in some cases. Our bodies just won’t wake up, and our minds are slow and sluggish. We get headaches, become moody, irritable, and even experience mild to moderate depression.
The worst part of this addiction, however, is that we tend to build up a tolerance—another reality that every coffee drinker is familiar with. Our morning coffee is no longer enough to make us feel “up” anymore, it just seems to stave off the withdrawal symptoms.
Then we start incorporating more coffee into our daily routine. We might have a mid-morning cup, a cup after lunch to fight off digestion-related fatigue, and maybe a late afternoon cup to power through the rest of the day.
Before we know it, we’ve consumed way more than the 400 milligrams of caffeine per day that is considered to be “ok”. By then we’re up into the “bad” 600mg level. This is when we can start to see some of the negative side effects of coffee.
Studies have shown that excessive caffeine in our system can actually decrease our ability to concentrate, to focus on one thing, and to think clearly. Yes, we may be able to churn out a high volume of work, but are we giving our highest quality work when our brain is not able to completely focus?
Going Caffeine Free
You will find that there are several important benefits that can result from removing the effects of coffee from your daily routine altogether.
The most important of these is improving your sleep. The benefits of quality sleep are far too deep of a subject to go into here, but it is enough to say that deep sleep is something of a miracle in terms your body healing and repairing itself. By interfering with it, you are interfering with one of the most critical aspects of your overall health. And for many people, even stopping caffeine consumption at 12 pm will still disrupt their night’s sleep.
You will also notice that your mood will be much more stable in the absence of the ups and downs associated with caffeine. You will have much-improved concentration, and experience less anxiety.
It should also be noted when asking is caffeine bad for you that caffeine has a very strong effect on the adrenal glands, which play an important role in your overall hormonal regulation. This stimulation can have broad-ranging effects on your Hypothalamus and pituitary gland and increase the level of stress hormones released into your system. This is particularly an issue for women, whose endocrine systems tend to be much more delicately balanced.
In addition, when your cellular activity is so ramped up due to caffeine, your cells will produce much higher levels of metabolic waste. This can overload your liver and detract from other detoxification duties it is performing.
Is there a happy medium?
We always want to think that yes, there is. It can be difficult, however, because we do become so addicted to caffeine with daily consumption. Steadily our tolerance grows and we consume more and more just trying to make it through the day.
Yet coffee may provide many worthwhile health benefits. If we can stay disciplined with our consumption to a couple of cups early in the morning, then we can potentially mitigate many of the negative aspects.
Even still, it is worth giving the caffeine-free lifestyle a chance. You may find, once you make the adjustment that you forgot just how much better you felt without caffeine’s effects on your body and mind.