The Caffeine Fix – Friend or Enemy?

We’ve heard the mixed reviews for years now. Some praise coffee as medicine in a mug while others tell us to stay away from the stimulant.

Recent research has shown that caffeine – specifically coffee- may actually help prevent diseases like stroke, certain cancers, lower our risk of Parkinson’s and dementia and boost our concentration and memory.

“Coffee is an amazingly potent collection of biologically active compounds,” Walter Willett, M.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, told the National Institutes of Health’s newsletter in 2013.

Caffeine provides health benefits, but if you are drinking over 400 milligrams a day – 4 cups of coffee – you could be putting yourself at risk for elevated blood pressure, poor sleep and heartburn.

The key is to keep to 400 mg’s or under of caffeine everyday – pending your specific health history and current medications – and you should be reaping the benefits of your cup of joe.

It may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. A caffeine habit in your 40s and 50s seems to reduce by up to 70 percent the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia in your 70s, a 2009 University of Florida study found. Other studies have found that regular caffeine consumption may help slow the rate of cognitive decline in older adults.

Coffee lowers the risk of stroke for older women. A 2009 U.S. study and a 2011 Swedish study both found that older women who drink more than a cup of caffeinated coffee daily have a 20 to 25 percent lower risk of stroke. A 2008 Swedish study found a similar result in older men.

A 2013 study by Harvard’s School of Public Health found that coffee cuts suicide risk. Those who drank two to three cups of caffeinated coffee a day cut their suicide risk by 45 percent – – possibly because caffeine’s stimulant effect helps boost people’s moods.

The largest study to date, a joint project in 2013 by the NIH’s National Cancer Institute and AARP that followed 400,000 men and women ages 50 to 71 for more than 10 years, found that those who regularly drank coffee — either decaf or regular — had a lower risk of overall death than did nondrinkers. In particular, the coffee drinkers were less likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections.

Next time you’re in the mood for a cup, keep in mind where you are buying it from. A typical cup (8 ounces) of brewed coffee contains 100-200 mg’s of caffeine, while Starbucks coffee contains 330 mg’s for 16 ounces.

Contrary to popular belief, espresso actually contains less caffeine than coffee – about 50-75 mg’s, so don’t be afraid to order a shot of the hot stuff!

Final Words: Coffee is definitely a good drink with many health benefits. If you have acid reflux, a sensitive stomach, high blood pressure or insomnia, it probably shouldn’t be your drink of choice. Speak to your doctor about how much caffeine is safe to consume.

Robin DeCicco

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