Did you know that coffee is one of the most consumed beverages in the world, only matched by water and tea? And, according to studies, 90 percent of adults in North America consume some form of caffeine on a daily basis, whether it’s caffeine in coffee or another caffeinated drink.1
The question over whether the caffeine in coffee is really good or bad for your health continues to be hotly debated by scientists and doctors, but there are certainly some interesting pro and cons relating to coffee consumption.
But first, one of the biggest questions people generally have is…
How Much Caffeine Is Considered Safe?
So, what is the “perfect” amount of caffeine? Or, more to the point, what is the maximum amount that you should consume on a daily basis?
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Association, healthy adults should not consume more than 400mg a day – that’s about four cups of coffee. This level is generally considered safe by the FDA.2
Of course, everyone is different, and some people are extra sensitive to even small amounts of caffeine.
It’s important to also understand decaf coffee. Decaf is not completely caffeine-free. FDA regulations stipulate that to be considered decaf, coffee must have only 97% of the caffeine removed from the beans. And it’s important to note that not all beans contain the same amount of caffeine – some beans are far more caffeinated than others to begin with. So, though it can be a far better choice if you’re trying to limit caffeine, if you drink enough decaf you will still get the caffeine effects. 3,4
The Positive Effects of Coffee on the Brain
So, what does coffee actually do to your brain? Here are a few of the positive effects that people can get from their morning cup of “black gold” – and the science behind them.
Coffee Keeps You More Alert
When the caffeine in coffee first hits your brain, it stimulates a neurotransmitter known as adenosine. Adenosine affects several of your brain functions, including your sleep cycle, as well as your learning, comprehension, and memory.5
The interesting thing is that caffeine is so similar to adenosine that it’s able to bind to receptors in its place, which (temporarily) blocks adenosine from binding to those nerve receptors. So, if you’ve ever felt a surge of energy or a boost in mental focus after your first cup of java, that’s probably the reason why.6
Coffee Helps You Stay Happy
Caffeine stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine in your brain. And dopamine helps to control your brain’s reward and pleasure centers (among other things). So when we indulge in that first cup of coffee, it’s dopamine that produces those feelings of euphoria and happiness.7
To take that one step further, a Harvard study actually found that women who drank four or more cups of coffee per day showed a 20 percent lower risk of depression. They attributed this not just to dopamine, but to the fact that the caffeine in coffee may also boost the “happy” hormones serotonin and noradrenaline.8
Now that’s a great reason to stick to your coffee habit!
Coffee May Boost Heart Health
New research now suggests that drinking coffee in moderation may actually be healthy for your heart.
The researchers looked at five Scandinavian studies, with over 140,000 participants, and found that there was a significant link between coffee consumption and a lowered risk of heart failure. Specifically, those who drank four European cups of coffee a day (two American 8-oz servings) appeared to have an 11 percent lower risk of heart failure. The next step in the research is to figure out why this is the case. But the theory right now is that coffee may offer some protection because it positively affects high blood sugar and high blood pressure – which together can lead to heart failure.9
The Negative Effects of Coffee on the Brain
The caffeine in coffee can have many positive effects on your brain, but once you exceed what your body can handle (and this amount is different for everyone), those positive effects often do a 180-degree flip on you.
Remember how caffeine helped you to stay alert by blocking adenosine? Well, our bodies rely on adenosine to help us feel sleepier as the day winds to a close. And if it’s still blocked by caffeine, you may just find yourself wide awake at 2 a.m. – know the feeling? Also, the more caffeine you consume, the more your neurons start firing, which eventually wakes up the pituitary gland. The pituitary then dials in a 911 emergency and shoves you right into fight or flight mode. And… hello jitteriness and anxiety!10 Not exactly the effect you were going for when you grabbed that sixth cup of joe.
Excessive caffeine may also cause insomnia, digestive issues, irritability, rapid heart rate, and ironically even fatigue in some cases.11
Find a Happy Medium!
Let’s face it, as much as you love the flavor, it’s often the caffeine in coffee that’s the big drawcard for many people. But too much caffeine can bring trouble – having the jitters or not being able to sleep can mess up your whole day. If you feel like you might like to cut back on the amount of coffee that you’re currently drinking, a good decaf can fill in. For example, try drinking only decaf after your first “real” cup each day.
Ultimately, coffee can really kick off your day the right way. Especially when you need that extra boost to divide and conquer – be it your office or your kids. It brings joy to so many people all over the world – it’s scientifically proven! – and when consumed sensibly has some truly great health benefits.
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