Generally, when people talk about caffeine, they’re talking about caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, tea, and soda. But caffeine is also found in chocolate and foods that use chocolate or coffee as flavorings, including ice cream and yogurt. People aren’t always aware of the amount of caffeine in some of these products. Then there are products that openly use caffeine as a stimulant, such as “energy” drinks and diet pills. Caffeine is used to speed up metabolism, which burns more calories and makes a person feel more energized.
So, with all of that, is caffeine good or bad? According to the Mayo Clinic, caffeine has gotten a bad rap in years past. “Coffee has been around for a long time and blamed for many ills—from stunting your growth to causing heart disease—but newer research shows it may actually have health benefits. . . . In fact, some studies have found an association between coffee consumption and decreased mortality and possibly cardiovascular mortality, although this may not be true in younger people who drink large amounts of coffee.”
It seems the answer to whether caffeine is good or bad is “it depends.” The Mayo Clinic goes on to say, “Studies have shown that coffee may have health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer. Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression.” On the downside, they cite risks such as mild increases in cholesterol from drinking large amounts of unfiltered (boiled or espresso) coffee. There is also, apparently, a “fairly common” genetic condition that can cause people with it to break down caffeine in the body more slowly, increasing their risk of heart disease if they have more than two cups of coffee a day.
Is caffeine addictive? Again, I think the answer is “it depends.” One individual we worked with drank ten to twelve pots of coffee per day—pots, not cups. I’ve known people who didn’t drink any water; their sole source of liquids was coffee, tea, or soda. Upon waking in the morning, they headed straight for a caffeinated drink and relied on that boost throughout the day. While the physical effects of caffeine are slight, compared to other substances on this list, I still believe people can become dependent on caffeine for not only physical effects but also psychological comfort and routine.
A man I know in his fifties recently had an episode of atrial fibrillation. This man keeps to a healthy weight and exercises regularly. At the emergency room, he was cautioned by the doctor to stop consuming caffeine as a preventative measure. Here was a man, already disciplined in eating and exercise, who confessed he wasn’t sure he could give up his coffee, even to avoid another trip to the emergency room.
Too much of any good thing can be harmful. The trick with caffeine, I believe, is to know when you reach that too much stage. For him, too much became any at all. For others, too much may be two cups a day if they have that genetic factor. For still others, too much may be drinking caffeinated drinks all day long. I believe addiction sets in when a person refuses to acknowledge that too much point. Have you been able to acknowledge and live within yours?
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.