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The Truth About Caffeine

Submitted By: Amy Sercel

Edited By: Marcia Bristow MS RDN CD

Did you have your fix?  If you’re like the majority of people in the world, you’ve probably eaten or drank something containing caffeine today. It’s true that there has been a lot of controversy about the health impact of caffeine, especially since a high intake can make you feel irritable or jittery and caffeine withdrawal can leave you with an unpleasant headache.  Recently, however, studies have shown that consuming caffeine may actually have some important health benefits.

Even though caffeine is found in sodas, teas, sports drinks, and certain medications, when people think of caffeine they usually think first about coffee.  Researchers have found that people who drink coffee are 27% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than people who do not. Furthermore, the research suggested that people in the study who drank the most coffee were the least likely to get Alzheimer’s disease.  Coffee has also been shown to help lower blood sugar levels, decreasing your risk of Type 2 Diabetes. However, caffeine alone has been found to increase blood sugars, so this benefit is likely the result of a different compound in coffee.

For athletes, caffeine intake has been found to increase endurance and therefore enhance performance due to its effect as a central nervous system stimulant.  Female swimmers who were given between 170 and 280 milligrams of caffeine half an hour before a race improved their time by an average of 0.31 seconds; males improved by about 0.18 seconds. While the benefits to both health and athletic performance are significant, it is important to remember that caffeine can decrease iron absorption when consumed with food, and can also increase calcium loss in the urine. In general, limiting your caffeine intake to less than 400 milligrams, or about four cups of coffee, per day and enjoying your caffeine between meals will help ensure that you get the maximum benefit possible!

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