Caffeine is a chemical which can be found in a variety of foods and drinks such as chocolate, coffee, tea, and fizzy drinks. Most people have caffeine on a daily basis in one form or another, but is it actually good for us or not?
Caffeine, like many chemicals is actually a drug. With this, it does affect the body in several different ways. Some of which are desirable and others, not so much.
Caffeine is thought to help in weight loss as it increases the heart rate and thus the metabolism helping to shift the pounds. However, as with many drugs, your body gets used to caffeine and so over a short space of time, this affect no longer occurs. More current studies are looking into the use of caffeine in combination with other things such as green tea to help sustain this metabolism boosting effect, but there is little evidence to show it really works in the long term.
Caffeine is often used in sports supplements as it can help with training in those doing endurance type activities i.e. a marathon. It does this by increasing the blood supply to the muscles and also has a ‘carbohydrate sparing affect’ (your carbohydrate stores last longer before they are used up). However, again used on a regular basis your body will get used to it and it will not have these effects. It should also be noted that the average person just going to the gym or a 30 minute jog in the morning does not need additional caffeine.
A recent study reported that drinking coffee (both caffeinated and de-caffeinated) reduced a person’s risk of death by 5-9%. Although this study was large scale it was also a ‘cohort’ style study. This means that a group of people were studied over many years and that although the researchers accounted for lifestyle factors such as smoking, that there is no way for accounting every single aspect of a person’s lifestyle which could affect their health.
For example, as part of this study, a food questionnaire was used. However, participants could leave up to 70 items on the list blank before they were not included in the study. It could be these items which made the difference. Or it could be that those who drink coffee are more likely to go to the gym and that is what reduced their mortality rate, not drinking coffee. We simply cannot be sure.
While most of us are sensible enough to realise that caffeine doesn’t help with getting a good nights sleep, most people do not realise that caffeine actually stays in your system around 8 hours, and even longer if you are having it at multiple times of the day. This means that having a cup of coffee at lunch will affect your ability to wind down before bed at night.
Going To The Toilet
The idea that caffeine makes you go to the loo more is actually a myth. One review looked at a number of studies in the area and concluded that there is only evidence that this happens when large doses are taken by someone who normally does not consume caffeine containing products. So the odd cup of tea isn’t going to have much of an affect and for those who consistently drink several cups of coffee a day, no affect at all will be noticed.
Unfortunately caffeine does affect the bowels. As a drug it interacts with the nervous system around the bowel and in some people who are quite sensitive it can cause stomach pains and loose stools.
So What Should You Do?
1. If you don’t already have caffeine in your diet, then don’t go rushing to add it in.
2. Avoid having caffeine past 12.00 (mid-day).
3. If you find it affects your bowels then slowly swop over to decaf drinks
4. Don’t use caffeine for the gym
5. Make other healthy changes which we know work e.g. 30 mins of exercise a day, swop to low fat dairy products, eating at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day etc.
6. Do not go cold turkey- if you drink a lot of caffeine then slowly reduce your intake over a couple of weeks or so. If you go cold turkey, you will end up with lots of headaches.
Ming Ding, et al. Association of coffee consumption with total and cause-specific mortality in three large prospective cohorts. Circulation, 2015 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.017341
Maughan, R.J. & Griffin, J. 2003. Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance, a review. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics; 16(6):411-20.