What Is Caffeine
Caffeine is a drug that is naturally produced in the leaves and seeds of many plants. It’s also produced artificially and added to certain foods. Caffeine is defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system, causing increased alertness. Caffeine gives most people a temporary energy boost and elevates mood.
Caffeine is in tea, coffee, chocolate, many soft drinks, and pain relievers and other over-the-counter medications. In its natural form, caffeine tastes very bitter. But most caffeinated drinks have gone through enough processing to camouflage the bitter taste.
Benefits of Caffeine
Tea contains antioxidants – Antioxidants work to prevent the body’s version of rust and thus help to keep us young and protect us from damage from pollution.
Tea — unadulterated, that is — is calorie free – “It’s a great no-calorie alternative to water,” Bonci says. “It provides so many options for flavor and versatility. You can have it hot or cold. And you don’t have to put anything in it, though you might want to add a cinnamon stick or some ginger. That means you’re able to hydrate with something other than water alone.”
Herbal tea may soothe the digestive system – “Herbal teas, in particular chamomile, can be good for people with irritable bowel syndrome because it is an antispasmodic,” Bonci says. “And ginger teas can calm nausea.”
Tea may help battle cancer – Studies on this are currently mixed, which means more research is needed, Bonci says. But, in the meantime, “if you’ve got a strong family history of cancer and you want to do anything you can, you might increase your tea consumption,” she adds.
Tea boost the immune system – Studies have shown tea can tune up immune cells so they reach their targets quicker.
Tea keep your smile bright – “Japanese researchers have found that tea can decrease tooth loss,” Ardine says. “It changes the pH in your mouth when you drink it and that may be what prevents cavities.” Beyond that, tea, unlike many other beverages does not appear to erode tooth enamel, Bonci says.
Help protect your bones – Data from recent animal studies has shown that green tea may prevent bone loss.
Tea may help with weight loss – Research on this isn’t as strong, Ardine says, adding that studies that have shown an effect have depended on consumption of large amounts of tea, often in pill form.
Tea may reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke – “There’s a lot of literature out there on tea and heart health,” says Anna Ardine, clinical nutrition manager at Magee-Womens Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “This is a health effect for which there is the strongest evidence.”
Tea has less caffeine than coffee – Herbal blends have no caffeine, while traditional teas have less than 50 percent of what typically is found in coffee. That means you can consume it without those pesky effects on your nervous system, says Leslie Bonci, nutritionist and owner of Active Eating Advice.
What are some side effects of caffeine?
Adults suffering from certain conditions, disorders and illnesses are at risk for additional side effects from caffeine consumption. WebMD states that caffeine consumption can worsen certain mental illnesses, such as anxiety and bipolar disorders, as well as conditions concerning the circulatory and cardiovascular systems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, bleeding disorders and diabetes.
In addition, individuals who experience diarrhea, epilepsy, glaucoma, irritable bowel syndrome and osteoporosis may also experience heightened symptoms of their pre-existing conditions. Caffeine consumption by children when limited to levels commonly found in food and beverages is likely to be safe with few side effects. However, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to limit or discontinue their use of caffeine as it may adversely affect infants.
WebMD links caffeine usage to increased risk of miscarriage in pregnant women and irritability, sleeplessness and increased bowel movements in breastfeeding infants. While caffeine in moderate doses has minimal sides effects, WebMD warns that when consumed in very high doses caffeine can cause irregular heartbeats and even lead to death.