US (BBN)-Still feeling guilty about that second cup of coffee? Chances are you shouldn’t be.
Whether you start each day with a latte or rely on a shot of espresso to get over the midafternoon hump, a healthy, moderate caffeine habit can provide many health benefits, reports Business Insider.
This doesn’t mean you should go guzzling energy drinks or pounding espresso shots.
Using too much caffeine or any other stimulant can be dangerous.
In moderation, though, a caffeine habit could be good for you.
IT BOOSTS OUR MEMORY
Caffeine has been shown to improve certain types of memory in some (but not all) studies, especially the ability to remember lists of words and straightforward information. Some research shows that it helps those memories “stick” in the brain as well, making it easier to recall that information at a later time.
One recent study indicates that extroverts get more of a working-memory boost from caffeine than introverts.
This may explain why some studies find a more significant effect than others.
Stephen Braun, the author of “Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine,” explains that individual reactions to caffeine vary greatly: while one person might thrive on a high level of caffeine, it’ll make another person unable to get anything done.
This enhancement, however, seems to be strongest for people who aren’t already hooked on caffeine in the first place, and too much caffeine can actually lead to a decrease in performance.
AND IMPROVES OUR MOOD
As a central nervous system stimulant, caffeine doesn’t just boost alertness, it can also improve your mood and is even associated with a reduced risk of depression especially when consumed in the form of coffee.
Even though too much of any stimulant can make people anxious and irritable, a mild dose has been shown to boost mood.
This is due to the same adenosine-blocking effect that makes you feel alert.
By blocking adenosine’s relaxing effects, caffeine lets dopamine and glutamine, another natural stimulant produced by your brain, run wild, making you more alert, less bored, and providing a mood boost.
Interestingly, a number of studies have found a connection between caffeine consumption and a reduced risk of depression (and even a lower risk of suicide).
However, at least one of these studies specifically found this connection with caffeinated coffee but not tea, though others found the same effect for tea as well.
IT WAKES US UP
It’s natural to grow increasingly tired throughout the day our brains naturally produce more and more of a molecule called adenosine from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep.
Scientists think this helps us get to bed at night.
Caffeine hijacks this natural process by mimicking adenosine in the brain. It latches onto the receptors designed for adenosine, pushing them out of the way.
As a result, we’re left feeling more alert and awake.
AND INCREASES OUR ATTENTION SPAN
One of the common reasons people use caffeine is to help them focus on a task, and no wonder: One of the clearer mental effects of caffeine is a boost in the ability to focus, especially for someone who is fatigued.
Research shows that commercial drivers who cover long distances are significantly less likely to crash if they’ve consumed caffeine in any form coffee, tea, pills, or energy drinks.
But most people are familiar with caffeine jitters if you consume too much of it, it’s hard to focus.
IT ALSO HELPS SOME MEDICINES WORK FASTER
If you’ve ever had a killer migraine, you’ve likely tried Excedrin, an over-the-counter medication marketed specifically for these types of rare, severe headaches.
What you might not know is that in addition to traditional pain relieving ingredients like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, Excedrin contains caffeine.
There’s some evidence that caffeine, when combined with certain pain-relieving medications like acetaminophen (the main active ingredient in Tylenol) and aspirin, helps those medications take effect quicker, last longer, and increases their effects.
For example, a 2007 study of 24 people who took either caffeine and the painkiller acetaminophen, either drug alone, or a placebo found that those who’d taken the combination of (as opposed to either one alone) saw a stronger decrease in pain symptoms that also tended to last longer.
AND IT’S ONE OF THE BEST ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE ENHANCERS OUT THERE
The most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world caffeine is also one of the most common performance-enhancing drugs used in sports.
The reason? It works, provided you carefully calculate the right dose and don’t use too much of it in day-to-day life.
“If you can tolerate it, it seems to be the upper end of what you can have to improve performance,” exercise physiologist Matthew Ganio told The Atlantic. If dosed correctly (and if it isn’t just returning a caffeine addict to a baseline level), it provides just enough of a boost that athletes see notable performance gains.
PLUS, CAFFEINE CONSUMERS ARE LESS LIKELY TO SUFFER FROM ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION
Men who drink the equivalent of at least two cups of coffee a day are about 40% less likely to have erectile dysfunction, according to some recent research from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
David Lopez, an assistant professor at UTHealth and the lead author of the study, thinks this may be because caffeine can help relax certain essential arteries and muscles and improves blood flow, though more research would be needed to say that for sure.
The study included people who got their caffeine from a variety of sources, including coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks, so the source of the caffeine seems to be irrelevant. And though the findings applied equally to healthy and obese men, diabetic men unfortunately did not experience this same reduction in risk for ED.
AND IT’S THE MOST COMMONLY USED PSYCHOACTIVE DRUG IN THE WORLD
One thing rarely discussed with regard to caffeine is that it is, in fact, a drug. It has psychoactive effects, changing the way we feel and interact with the world around us.
It’s the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the entire world, which is probably why we don’t think about it as a drug. Yet think of how many of us can’t or won’t get through a day without it (this writer included).
Harvard neuroscientist Charles Czeisler thinks that caffeine, combined with electricity, allowed humans to escape natural patterns of sleep and wakefulness, breaking them free from the cycle of the sun, essentially enabling the “great transformation of human economic endeavor from the farm to the factory,” according to a look at this miracle drug in National Geographic. It enables the modern world.
IT MAY ALSO HELP PROTECT AGAINST SOME DISEASES AT LEAST WHEN IT’S CONSUMED AS COFFEE
Research from multiple studies done over the past few years suggests that drinking coffee regularly and in moderate amounts, such as two to three cups a day, may help protect against certain diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, liver cancer, and Parkinson’s disease.
In several large international studies, researchers found that people who drank moderate to large amounts of coffee each day (between three and four cups) had an even lower risk of developing diabetes Type 2 than people who drank a small to moderate amount of coffee, although there appeared to be benefits to drinking any amount.
These studies don’t confirm that drinking coffee reduces people’s risk of disease, of course, but merely show a relationship between the two.
COFFEE MAY ALSO HAVE SOME PROTECTIVE EFFECTS FOR THE LIVER
Studies suggest that regular coffee drinkers are better protected against liver cirrhosis, a complication of liver disease where the liver cells begin to die and be replaced with scar tissue, than people who don’t drink coffee at all.
One study of 125,580 people enrolled in a comprehensive prepaid healthcare plan, 330 of whom developed nonalcoholic liver cirrhosis, found that those who drank the most coffee (more than four cups a day) were the least likely to develop cirrhosis, while those who drank moderate levels (one to three cups a day) were the second-least likely to develop cirrhosis, and those who the least (less than a cup a day) were the most likely to develop cirrhosis.
Again, this research doesn’t confirm that drinking coffee reduces peoples’ risk of illness, but merely shows a possible link between the two.
AND THERE’S EVIDENCE THAT IT HELPS PROTECT YOUR BRAIN, TOO
There is substantial evidence that caffeine is protective against neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease,” according to David Elmenhorst, a researcher who studies the effects of habitual caffeine consumption at the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Jülich, Germany.
Elmenhorst notes that several studies have shown that moderate coffee consumption, about three to five cups a day, is associated with a reduced risk for dementia later on in life.
Because the biggest brain changes caused by coffee have to do with changes in adenosine receptors, which respond to caffeine, he thinks that this reduced risk for brain diseases may be connected to caffeine itself, more than other ingredients in coffee.