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HomeWellnessFrom White Plains Hospital: The Pros and Cons of Caffeine

From White Plains Hospital: The Pros and Cons of Caffeine

 

by Gregory Pontone, MD, MBA, Cardiology

Many of us enjoy a cup or two of coffee in the morning, with its caffeine content helping to bump up our energy level and prepare us for the coming day. Once at the office, we may have another cup as we get to work, and perhaps another in the afternoon for an added jolt. Some people can have a cup or two in the evening without necessarily affecting their sleep habits (lucky them!).

But is it possible to take in too much caffeine? “All things in moderation,” advised Socrates or Oscar Wilde ­– there is some debate as to who originated the phrase – and the same is true of caffeine. The substance occurs naturally in such plants as coffee beans; tea leaves; kola nuts, which are used to flavor soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi; and cocoa beans, the key ingredient in chocolate and related products. Synthetic caffeine is also manufactured for some pain relievers, cold medicines, energy drinks and the like.

The Food and Drug Administration maintains (FDA) that 400 milligrams of caffeine a day (about three to four 8-oz. cups) is reasonable, and can actually be beneficial to one’s health. Research indicates that those who regularly ingest the recommended amount of caffeine may be less likely to develop some chronic illnesses due to the antioxidants it provides. Caffeine can help your body better process glucose, which can lower your chance of developing diabetes, as well as lower the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease as well as neuro-degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It also appears to lower one’s risk of developing certain cancers, including liver and endometrial.

Coffee itself may help you live longer, caffeinated or not. A September 2022 report by the European Society of Cardiology even maintains that, “Drinking two to three cups of coffee a day is linked with a longer lifespan and lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared with avoiding coffee …. The findings applied to ground, instant and decaffeinated varieties.”

None of this is to suggest that coffee and/or caffeine should be viewed as some kind of wonder drug. These substances do not prevent the above-named conditions; they simply can help lower your risk. A sensible diet and regular exercise can have the same effect; putting a lot of sugar in your coffee will likely counteract its anti-diabetes properties. For the same reason, I am not a fan of caffeinated energy drinks, which usually have high levels of sugar.

Meanwhile, the stereotype of someone who has had too much caffeine is largely true. Jitteriness, a temporarily heightened heart rate, an inability to get good sleep can occur; in some cases, a person may be prone to severe headaches and chest pains – never a good sign. Those who already suffer from heart arrhythmias, insomnia, and anxiety disorders should probably not have caffeine, or at least consume it in small quantities. In addition, pregnant women are advised to abstain from caffeine.

Can you “overdose” on caffeine? Probably not. You would have to drink about 28 cups of brewed coffee to reach such a level; the time necessary to consume so many drinks – and, as coffee is a diuretic, the breaks that would be necessary ­– pretty much precludes reaching toxic levels.

Fortunately, few of us are interested in such activity. For all of us, again, the best approach is: all things in moderation.

 

Dr. Gregory Pontone is a noninvasive cardiologist and the Associate Medical Director of Ambulatory Quality and Physician Services at White Plains Hospital. To make an appointment, call 914-849-4800.

Health Matters – The original version of this article was published in Health Matters, a White Plains Hospital publication. 

 

 

 

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