Caffeine benefits for many and possible negative effects for some

Caffeine – Not all bad and even some benefits

If you thought this was another article that would ruin a source of pleasure in your life, you’ll be happy to know I won’t be doing that. Still, there are some risks associated with caffeine, and certain sub-populations are more apt to be sensitive to caffeine’s effects than others. Even those who are sensitive may be able to resolve their issue by just decreasing their intake or consuming it earlier in the day.

The FDA issued a letter in 2012 noting that up to 400 mg. a day of caffeine intake is not associated with adverse effects in healthy adults. That information as well as important points about metabolizing caffeine can be found in the journal article “Effects of Caffeine on Health:  A Review,” by A. Roy and B. Das, published in Research J Pharm and Tech, 8 (9), the September, 2015 edition.

Since many of the effects of caffeine are dose-related, a little math is necessary. Average caffeine consumption in the U.S. ranges from about 135 mg. a day to 170 mg. a day.

An eight-ounce cup of coffee……135 mg.

8 ounces of black tea………………….50 mg.

8 oz. green tea or instant…………… 30 mg.

12-oz caffeinated soft drink…………. 34.5 to 55.5 mg.

Some types of bottled water have caffeine added, plus there is caffeine in chocolate and some over-the-counter medications such as migraine headache formulations. Energy drinks are another source of caffeine. This valuable information was obtained from the article “Is Caffeine Excess part of your Differential diagnosis?” L. Bridle, J. Remick and E. Duffy wrote this excellent piece for the April, 2004 issue of Nurse Practitioner.

Variations in Caffeine metabolism

There is a pharmacological concept called the elimination half-life and it describes how long it takes to eliminate a drug from the body. After one half life, half the drug is broken down, and after a second half-life that amount is halved again. The elimination half-life for caffeine is three to seven hours. If an individual is a rapid metabolizer and drank a cup of coffee with 120 mg. of caffeine in it, three hours later there would be 60 mg. left (still causing an effect) and after an additional three hours there would be only 30 mg. left.

A lot of things affect the half-life of any drug such as a person’s age, other medications they are taking, illnesses, etc. Other factors also can affect that rate. For example, cigarette smoking speeds up caffeine metabolism and when people quit smoking, caffeine breakdown slows. That may lead to insomnia for those trying to quit smoking (Roy and Das, 2015).

Bottom line on all this:  if a rapid heartbeat, anxiety, insomnia or other possible caffeine- related effects have developed, increased caffeine intake or decreased caffeine metabolism may be the cause. Decreasing intake could be helpful in such a situation.

Besides the potential to overly stimulate, caffeine also increases loss of calcium through the urinary tract. That is most significant for individuals not getting enough calcium and consuming a lot of caffeine (Roy and Das, 2015).

It may induce a Panic Attack in those susceptible

The article “Caffeine Challenge Test in Panic Disorder and Depression with Panic Attacks,” by A.E. Nardi et al (found in Comprehensive Psychiatry, the May 2007 issue) adds important information about the effects of caffeine for those who have one of these disorders. After a 480 mg. test dose of caffeine was given (the equivalent of about 3 ½ cups of coffee), approximately 50% of those with Panic Disorder or Depression with Panic Attacks experienced a panic attack. Included in this experiment were people who didn’t have either disorder and only 7% of these individuals had a panic attack after the same caffeine dose was given. Thus limiting caffeine intake might be helpful for this subpopulation.

Research hasn’t correlated heart disease and caffeine intake. There is some evidence that caffeine may interfere with the functioning of insulin receptors, contributing to type 2 diabetes, but there’s also research associating caffeine consumption with a lower risk of this disorder. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) has been linked to caffeine intake, as has urge incontinence. The diuretic effect of caffeine is primarily a concern for those who take diuretics and can’t manage dehydration as easily, or for those dehydrated. Other research has found a possible correlation between caffeine intake over 200 mg. a day and increased risk of a miscarriage.

Caffeine Benefits

On to the possible benefits from caffeine! The Roy and Das article found some evidence that regular caffeine consumption may decrease the chance of Parkinson’s Disease, colon cancer, and Alzheimer’s Disease. Caffeine also increases energy availability and expenditure, heightens cognitive function, concentration and ability to focus attention, aids short term memorization, and improves problem solving requiring reasoning (from “Caffeine—Not just a stimulant,” by Michael Glade in the October, 2010 issue of Nutrition). In conclusion, the subpopulations of pregnant women, those who have panic attacks, as well as the elderly may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and benefit from limiting their intake. And if you aren’t experiencing the side effects, enjoy!

This article is not intended to replace your health care provider. The intent is to make reliable information about different aspects of health readily available.


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