effects of caffeine

5 Things You Need to Know About Caffeine

The dos and don’ts of caffeine are about as long as the list of ways to consume it. Here’s what you need to know about caffeine and your health.

Is it the eye-opening benefits of caffeine, or coffee’s rich flavor and aroma that we crave so passionately? It’s likely the combination of its assets that makes java the daily beverage of choice for 54 percent of adult Americans, according to the National Coffee Association. What most of those coffee drinkers are unlikely to think about, however, are the health benefits — and potential risks — of caffeine, the stimulant found in coffee, tea, and many soft drinks and energy beverages. Here are 10 essentials facts you should know about caffeine.

1. Caffeine Makes Working Out Easier

Having a couple of coffees at your favorite coffee shop before you head to the gym could power up your workout, says Michael Duncan, PhD, professor of exercise science at Coventry University in the United Kingdom. In an experimental study he conducted, published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging in December 2014, 19 healthy older adults between ages 61 and 79 who drank the equivalent of four cups of instant coffee or two cups of filtered coffee just before exercising were better able to invest effort in their workout than folks who didn’t get a caffeine boost. They also performed better at tasks like arm curls and a six-minute walk. Even their manual dexterity improved, notes Dr. Duncan.

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2. Caffeine May Improve Your Memory

Caffeine consumption was associated with better memory and better executive functioning (planning, organizing, and time management) in healthy older adults (average age 74) in an observational study published in July 2015 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia. The researchers, from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, found that any amount of habitual coffee consumption was helpful. Other studiesperformed on mice have suggested caffeine might be helpful in treating Alzheimer’s disease.

3. Caffeine May Help Lower Risk of Colon Cancer Recurrence

Colon cancer patients who regularly drink caffeinated coffee may be lowering their risk of tumor recurrence and death from the disease, suggests a study published in November 2015 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The observational study found that people with advanced (stage 3) colon cancer who drank four or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day had much lower odds of having a recurrence of the disease, or dying from it, by 52 percent compared with non-coffee drinkers. Even people who regularly drank just two or three cups a day seemed to reap some of the same benefits, although to a lesser degree.

Another observational study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in April 2016, compared the coffee-drinking habits of more than 9,000 adults and found that “… drinking coffee is associated with lower risk of colorectal cancer, and the more coffee consumed, the lower the risk,” according to Stephen Gruber, MD, PhD, director of the University of Southern California Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles and senior author of the study.

4. Caffeine May Lower Skin Cancer Risk

A handful of studies suggest that caffeine could potentially lower your risk for skin cancer. In an observational study (a study that shows an association but not causation) published in Cancer Research in July 2012, researchers using data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study reported that the higher a person’s caffeine consumption, the lower their risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. Similarly, in two 2015 studies, one published in February in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and another in November in Epidemiology, researchers linked higher caffeine intake to a lower risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. But other factors besides caffeine could be at play, suggests the Skin Cancer Foundation. For example, it’s possible that people who drink a lot of coffee tend to work indoors and get less sun exposure than do people who drink less coffee.

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5. Coffee, in Moderation, May Have Heart-Healthy Benefits

Studies have shown that drinking three to four cups of caffeinated coffee a day is linked to a lower risk of developing stroke and coronary artery disease, says Susanna C. Larsson, PhD, associate professor in the Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. What’s more, according to her observational study published in BMC Medicine in September 2015, drinking caffeinated coffee doesn’t appear to increase your risk of developing atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heart rhythm. “Caffeine might be one of the components in coffee that reduces the risk of stroke and coronary artery disease,” says Dr. Larsson.

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