What Are The Pros and Cons of Caffeine?

There’s no denying that caffeine is a staple in many of our lives. On an average day, 95 million cups of coffee are consumed in Britain alone. And this statistic is even higher for tea, with 165 million cups being drunk per day. There’s even a culture built around the substance. The UK’s coffee shop sector is worth over £10 billion, and the consistent growth of the industry shows no signs of slowing down. But when we talk about caffeine, we only seem to discuss the negative effect it has on our bodies. This is no surprise, considering that the stimulus is technically a drug. But is it really as bad for us as people say it is? Let’s find out by weighing up the pros and cons of caffeine.

Pro: Caffeine Makes You More Alert

Let’s start off with an obvious pro. Consuming caffeine is a sure-fire way to make yourself feel alert. When we use up energy, our bodies produce adenosine, a compound which communicates with our nervous system to make us feel drowsy. When caffeine is consumed, it mimics the adenosine compound, and our brain can’t tell the difference between the two products. But caffeine actually has the complete opposite effect of adenosine — it prompts our bodies to release adrenaline, which gives us a jolt of energy. This means that the substance can come in very handy when we need to be at our most alert. So if you have to stay late for work, or shake off that mid-afternoon slump, try consuming some caffeine-rich foods and drinks, such as coffee or dark chocolate.

Pro: Caffeine is an Antioxidant

That’s right — caffeine is actually good for you. Scientists have recently found that caffeine is one of the richest antioxidant sources available to us. Antioxidants are naturally occurring molecules in the body, which prevent free radicals (toxins) from causing damage. If our body is low in antioxidants and free radicals go unchallenged, we are more likely to develop a range of conditions, including forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Although we do develop antioxidants naturally, we need more than what we already have to protect us. This is why a diet high in antioxidants is crucial. So your morning coffee actually has similar health benefits to other antioxidant-rich food, like blueberries and spinach. In fact, coffee, in particular, is loaded with antioxidants. Not only does it contain caffeine, but it’s also a source of several other powerful antioxidants, including the anti-inflammatories cafestol and melanoidins.

Pro: Caffeine Can Prevent Memory Loss

Researchers have found that caffeine can have an impact on your likelihood of developing memory disorders, like dementia and Alzheimer’s. It can do this by reducing your body’s levels of beta-amyloid by 50%. This is a harmful protein, which is found in the brains of people who have memory disorders. The substance can also help with your short term memory. A study conducted on a group of students found that the participants who consumed caffeine performed better in their morning exams than controls who didn’t.

However, you can have too much of a good thing. Excessive amounts of caffeine can actually increase your risk of memory loss. This is because the substance increases your body’s levels of cortisol. In time, too much cortisol can shrink the hippocampus, which is the home of our memories. So make sure you consume it in moderation. If you don’t, you put yourself at risk of experiencing more of the cons of caffeine.

Con: Caffeine Can be Addictive

Have you ever uttered the phrase “I can’t function without my morning coffee”? If you have, you’re probably suffering from caffeine addiction. The substance can become addictive, as it can change the chemistry of your brain, which can make you dependent on it. Although the addiction is nowhere near as dangerous as it is with many other substances, it can still seriously harm your body. If you’re suffering from caffeine addiction, you’ll likely have symptoms such as headaches, muscle spasms and trouble sleeping. And just like any other drug, if you attempt to wean yourself off caffeine, you will experience a range of withdrawal symptoms, including fatigue and difficulty concentrating. If you believe you have a caffeine addiction, or if you’re worried about developing one, try some caffeine alternatives. They’ll still give you the energy boost you need, but without the nasty side effects.

Con: Caffeine Can Worsen Anxiety

As we already know, caffeine has the ability to alter your brain chemistry. Too much of the substance can therefore lead to dark consequences for your mental health. Caffeine can make anxiety worse, as it speeds up your bodily functions and response times. It does this by stimulating your fight-or-flight response, which can lead you to suffer from an anxiety attack. Caffeine can also worsen symptoms of anxiety, such as feeling restless and having a faster heart rate. This is why you might sometimes feel jittery and antsy after a large coffee. The substance can even cause depression, as it can decrease your body’s production of serotonin. If you find that your mental health is at its worst after consuming caffeine, make sure to ease yourself off the substance, as stopping altogether may do more harm than good.

Con: Caffeine Can Cause Insomnia

Caffeine does a great job of making us feel awake, but this comes at a price. Although not everyone suffers from insomnia as a result of caffeine consumption, some of us do due to increased sensitivity to the substance. This depends on multiple factors, including weight and resting heart rate. Too much caffeine can lead to a decrease in deep sleep, as well as delay your internal body clock, making good quality sleep almost impossible to achieve.

If you have difficulty sleeping, there are a couple of things you can do to help yourself. Firstly, make sure you’re having your caffeine at the right time. Having it too early can lead you to peak in the morning, and leave you drained for the rest of the day. But having it too late will keep you awake at night. And make sure you’re not consuming too much caffeine. Limit yourself to half of your daily recommended amount, and you’ll probably feel far better.

So, Should I Have Caffeine or Not?

Like most things, caffeine-rich foods and drinks are great in moderation. You shouldn’t need to rely on the substance to function, nor should your health be suffering as a result of consuming it. But having caffeine in moderation can be beneficial for your health, and it’s a great energy booster. So yes, you can — and should — have that morning coffee. Just don’t overdo it.

Written by Siobhan Kelly
Siobhan is a recent Sociology graduate, with a passion for writing. Her degree has given her experience researching a range of topics relating to the Sociology of both physical and mental health. She has a particular interest in understanding the effect that body image has on mental health.

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