Caffeine is a stimulant and a drug. You know this. Consume too much, and you’ll find yourself addicted and at-risk for associated health problems. You probably know this, too. But at the same time, study after study has shown that moderate consumption of caffeine-rich foods such as coffee, tea, and dark chocolate can help lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer — partially because these foods are all rich sources of disease-fighting antioxidants.
But before you pour another cup of coffee, pop open a soda or toss back an energy drink, here are some caffeine facts you need to know:
1. Caffeine just might be good for you.
The health benefits of caffeine are far-reaching — as long as it’s consumed in moderate amounts, says Rania Batayneh, MPH, a nutritionist and owner of Essential Nutrition for You, a nutrition consulting firm. “Caffeine stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates an area of gray matter in the brain responsible for alertness and productivity,” she says. And because dopamine regulates mood, a cup of coffee can improve your mood, at least temporarily. As a stimulant, caffeine has also been shown to boost endurance and speed in workouts, though not all experts recommend consuming caffeine pre-workout.
2. However, too much of it may cause certain health conditions.
The news is not all good when it comes to caffeine, however. “Caffeine is a drug, and like any other drug, it can have harmful effects when ingested in high amounts,” Batayneh cautions. “At doses of more than 500 milligrams (mg), which is about the amount in 4 cups of coffee, caffeine has been found to cause nervousness, irritability, insomnia, an upset stomach, muscle tremors, and an irregular heartbeat.”
Some studies have found that caffeine can reduce your bone’s ability to absorp calcium. However, an analysis at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., found that caffeine-caused bone loss mainly affects elderly woman, and that it can be offset by adding milk to your coffee. A research review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last year found that caffeine causes short-term blood pressure spikes, so people with high blood pressure are often advised to watch their caffeine intake.
3. Learn how to consumer the right amount of caffeine for you.
If you do choose to partake in caffeine, moderate consumption is best. “A healthy individual should try to consume less than 300 to 400 mg of caffeine a day, which is roughly equal to three 6-ounce cups of coffee, four cups of tea, or six cans of soda,” Batayneh says. Pregnant women and people with high blood pressure should limit their intake to 150 to 200 mg a day, and children should consume no more than 50 mg daily. “At levels higher than this,” she warns, “uncomfortable symptoms such as restlessness and irritability may develop.”
4. Caffeine may reduce your risk of having a stroke.