The Surprising Health Benefits Of Caffeine (Full Report)

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The Surprising Health Benefits Of Caffeine
The Surprising Health Benefits Of Caffeine Graphic © Photo © AdobeStock 11872515 (under license)

Here’s our full health report on Caffeine – the bitter-tasting alkaloid that is loved by the majority of humans! Caffeinated beverages are some of the most popular in the world; but how does caffeine affect our health? The answer is in fact a little complex! This in-depth report dives deep into the world of caffeine, exploring its benefits and negative effects. It’s time to become a caffeine expert! 🙂 Let’s begin.

History of Caffeine

Caffeine has been part of humanity’s history for thousands of years. Many cultures around the world have legends that describe the discovery of plants rich in caffeine. One of these legends comes from Mongolia, during the reign of the Emperor Shennong, who ruled the Middle Kingdom in about 3000 BC. According to the book “Cha Jing”, by Lu Yu, a legendary tea sage, Shennong accidentally discovered caffeine when some leaves fell into boiling water, producing the fragrant and restorative drink we now know as tea.

Though there are many sources of caffeine, coffee beans remain the most popular. The discovery of coffee comes from Ethiopia, where the coffee plant Coffea arabica originated. [1] Coffea arabica is thought to have been the first species of coffee plant to be cultivated and is the one now responsible for around 60% of global coffee production. Of course, there’s an old tale connected to this plant, too: An Ethiopian myth talks about a goat herder named Kaldi who observed the behavior of his goats after browsing on coffee shrubs. Kaldi saw how his animals became sleepless at night following consumption of coffee berries. He also tried the berries and experienced the same vitality as his hyperactive goats…

Written accounts of coffee are found in the early works of famous 9th-century Persian physician Al-Razi, who is regarded as one of the greats of medieval medicine. Another work that traced the history and legal controversies of coffee was written by Malaye Jaziri, a Kurdish poet, who shared that the Sufis of Yemen routinely used coffee to stay awake during prayers. [2]

Coffee then spread to Egypt, North Africa, the Middle East, Persia and Turkey. It arrived in Europe via Hungary in the 16th century and coffee houses began to spring up throughout Europe in the 17th century. The Dutch were then responsible for transporting coffee plants to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), Java and Suriname, establishing plantations and developing the international trade.

Sources of Caffeine

Coffee and tea plants are the most ubiquitous caffeine sources, but the compound is in fact found in around thirty plant species! Some caffeine acts as pesticide which protects these plants from predators. Here are some caffeine-containing herbs used in energy drinks and other products regulated as dietary supplements.

• Guarana

This plant, especially common and popular in Brazil, grows as a shrub or climbing vine in the Amazon basin. The seeds of this plant contain the highest caffeine of any known natural sources – around double that of coffee beans. Guarana seeds are used as a flavoring agent for carbonated “energy drinks”. The caffeine-independent pharmacologic effects of guarana remain understudied, but the plant is certainly established to have potent stimulant properties.

• Yerba Mate

The leaves and branches of this plant are prepared as a tea. This plant is native to South America and contains about 70 mg/100 mL of caffeine. The pharmacologic effect of yerba mate is linked to its caffeine content. This beverage is immensely popular in Mesoamerican and South American countries, however according to some reports, chronic ingestion of yerba mate could cause esophageal and other cancers.

• Cola Nut

Cola nut contains about 1.5-2.5% caffeine and is used by food companies for flavoring foods and cola beverages. This nut is cultivated in Africa and Central and South America. The pharmacological and toxicological properties of kola nut are parallel to those of a dose of caffeine, based on published data of the major constituents of kola nuts.

• Cacao

Cacao is a minor contributor to total caffeine consumption and contains small amounts of caffeine relative to coffee or tea. The plant’s seeds are processed to manufacture chocolate. A cocoa bean has 0.1 to 0.7% of caffeine which is also present in lesser amounts in the husk that surrounds the bean.

Products Containing Caffeine

Caffeine is consumed in various products by around 80% of the world’s population each day. The late 1800s saw the introduction of caffeinated soft drinks and energy drinks soon followed. Now, most people get caffeine from coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate and caffeinated snacks. Here are some products that contain the compound.

• Coffee

Arabica-variety espresso has higher caffeine at 80 to 100 milligrams per shot than a cup of drip coffee which contains 100-125 milligrams. The Arabica variety has less caffeine than that of the robusta. The roasting process reduces the caffeine content of coffee, so lighter roasts have higher caffeine than dark-roast coffee.

• Tea

This beverage contains varying amounts of caffeine due to several factors including growing conditions, processing techniques, and other variables. Color is an important indicator of the caffeine content of teas. The Japanese green tea has far more caffeine content than much darker teas like oolong.

• Chocolate

A 28-gram serving of a milk chocolate bar offers as much caffeine as a cup of decaffeinated coffee. Dark chocolates have one to two times the amount of caffeine as coffee or 80-160 milligrams per 100 grams.

• Soft drinks and energy drinks

Soft drinks generally have lesser caffeine content than energy drinks. The former only contains 0 to 55 mg of caffeine per 12 ounces serving while the latter can start at 80 milligrams of caffeine per serving. Most of these products use decaffeination or chemical synthesis to extract the caffeine from various ingredients including kola nuts or cocoa beans.

• Inhalers

Caffeine is used as a key ingredient for some products marketed as inhalers. The U.S. Food and Drugs Administration released a warning in 2012 to an inhaler manufacturer due to concerns about the lack of safety information about inhaled caffeine.

• Caffeinated Alcoholic Drinks

Alcohol is sometimes combined with caffeine to create products whose stimulant effect comes from caffeine to mask the depressant effects of alcohol. According to the FDA, caffeine added to malt liquor beverages is an unsafe food additive and requested the recall of several brands in 2010.

• Oral Dissolvable Caffeine Strips

Each strip of this product contains 40 mg of caffeine. Primarily developed for the sports market, caffeine strips have been in the U.S. market for a while. These products look like ordinary sticks of chewing gum that rapidly dissolve in the mouth. Too much consumption of caffeine strips could cause restlessness, insomnia, increased urination, and muscle twitching.

• Caffeine Pills

Caffeine pills are readily available worldwide and typically contain 100mg to 200mg of caffeine.

Outlined below are the approximate amounts of caffeine expected per 8 ounces of some popular beverages:

• Espresso: 240-720 mg.
• Coffee: 102-200 mg.
• Yerba mate: 65-130 mg.
• Energy drinks: 50-160 mg (approx, depending on brand. Check label.)
• Brewed tea: 40-120 mg.
• Soft drinks: 20-40 mg.
• Decaffeinated coffee: 3-12 mg.
• Cocoa beverage: 2-7 mg.
• Chocolate milk: 2-7 mg.

Healthful / Beneficial Properties of Caffeine

Independent research by scientists around the world continues to posit the health benefits offered by caffeine. This increasing scientific evidence has improved the reputation of coffee, tea, cocoa, and other caffeine-rich plants and some consider them as superfoods. In fact, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines made an unprecedented recommendation for coffee and chocolates as part of a healthy lifestyle. Here are the beneficial effects reported by studies for foods that contain caffeine, especially coffee:

• Enhanced Memory and Improves Brain Function

According to an Austrian study published by researchers from Johns Hopkins University in the journal Nature Neuroscience, caffeine could enhance certain memories at least up to one day after its consumption. The study confirmed the positive effect of caffeine on long-term memory. [3]

• Reduced Risk of Parkinson’s Disease

Harvard researchers found out that drinking four or five cups of coffee a day could cut the risk of Parkinson’s disease by 50% compared with drinking little or no caffeine. Published in the Annals of Neurology, the study suggests the possible protective effects of moderate doses of caffeine against cognitive disorder. [4]

• Reduced Muscle Pain

The Journal of Applied Psychology published an article that how consuming caffeine and carbs after strenuous exercise could help athletes recover faster and perform better during the following day’s workout. Caffeine increases the levels of glycogen which fuels the muscles to function. [5]

• Lower Risk of Liver Cancer

Italian researchers reported in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology that consumption of coffee could decrease the risk of liver cancer by about 40%. The results of their study also indicated that drinking three cups of coffee a day could reduce the risks by more than half. [6]

• Lower Suicide Risk in Adults

An interesting study published in The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry supported the association between caffeine consumption and lower risk of suicide. The study was conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health. [7]

• Reduced Stroke Risk

In 2011, Swedish researchers reported in the Stroke Journal of the American Heart Association that women who had more than one cup of coffee per day had a lower risk of stroke compared to women who consumed less. They also found the link between no coffee drinking and an increased risk of stroke. [8]

• Reduced Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Another study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health investigated to what extent type 2 diabetes might benefit from coffee consumption. The study provided evidence on the impact of changes in coffee consumption on type 2 diabetes risk in a relatively short of time. [9] Note of course, sugar would be contrary to this benefit and so the coffee should be consumed without sugar!

• May Help Prevent Gout

A study published by the American Society for Nutrition affirmed the relationship between long-term coffee consumption and lower risk of incident of gout in women. The study proposed coffee intake as part of the prevention and management of the common and painful medical condition. [10]

• Supports Gut Health

In 2009, a human volunteer study that first appeared in the International Journal of Food Microbiology highlighted the association between coffee consumption for less than a month and an increased amount and activity of beneficial gut bacteria. Researchers assessed the fecal samples of people before and after the intake of coffee. [11]

• Aids Ibuprofen in Treating Postoperative Pain

A review of several studies showed that combining a lower dose of ibuprofen with caffeine could help people get good levels of pain relief after surgery. The analgesic efficacy of the combined medication was confirmed from five randomized, double-blind studies. [12]

Health Benefits Of Tea

Tea leaves contain more caffeine than coffee beans before they undergo the brewing process. However, most tea manufacturers do not include information on caffeine amounts of their products. When brewed, coffee has higher amounts of caffeine than tea. There are several factors that affect the amount of caffeine in a cup of tea including the variety of the tea, method of processing, and brewing. So, how does the caffeine in the tea benefit your health?

• Reduced Risk Of Cancer

The Japanese Journal of Veterinary Research published a paper that showed the role of the components of green tea extracts in reducing the amount of carcinogens. These components include caffeine and caffeine. [13]

• Increased Energy Expenditure / Boosted Metabolism

In 2005, the British Journal of Nutrition reported that a mixture of green tea and guarana extracts had positive effects on the burning of calories in the body. This affect was attributed by the study to the caffeine content of the mixture. [14]

• Fights Diabetes

Yerba Mate is widely-used as a tea or as an ingredient in formulated foods. A study published in 2012 highlighted the potential of Yerba Mate as a treatment option for diabetic people. [15]

• Maintains Alertness, Focused Attention, and Accuracy

Caffeinated tea was the subject focus on several studies that confirmed the value of ingesting the beverage at regular intervals in modulating the more acute effects of higher doses of caffeine. These studies showed that caffeine’s interaction with dietary component L-theanine enhances performance in terms of attention switching and ability to ignore distraction. [16]

Negative Effects of Caffeine Consumption

For some people, the effects of caffeine as a stimulant could result in addiction. According to scientists, caffeine could activate the same behavioral and neuropharmacological mechanisms that are activated by other drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine – although evidently to a much lesser degree. Some people became physically dependent on caffeine and are unable to reduce consumption despite the physical or psychological symptoms associated with continued use including headache, fatigue, depression and nausea. However by comparison to the use of alcohol or tobacco, caffeine is regarded as very benign.

The addictive nature of caffeine was established by scientists back in 1994 when researchers confirmed that the substance makes people addicted in the same fundamental manner that cigarettes, alcohol, or intravenous drugs do. The study on caffeine dependence was published in The Journal of American Medical Association and was led by Dr. Roland Griffiths and Dr. Eric Strain of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. [17]

After more than two decades, caffeine withdrawal is finally included as a mental disorder in the 5th edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. [18] However, the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are transitory and the effects are relatively short-term. To decaffeinate your body, you need to get through about 7-12 days of symptoms without drinking any caffeine. Your addiction will be broken if you can make it that long without succumbing to the yearning for caffeine ingestion.

Recommended Dosages Of Caffeine

The U.S. Food and Drugs Administration and the European Food Safety Authority advises daily intake of 400 mg of caffeine as safe. [19] That is amount is equivalent to two to four cups of coffee per day.

The LD50 of caffeine (the amount that would be lethal for 50% of humans) is reported to be 150-200mg per kilogram of body mass. So for a 50kg person this would equate to 7,500mg-10,000mg. Still, the ill effects would begin way before that level and would become extremely unpleasant.

Some people need to take special consideration of caffeine consumption. Some people may experience heart palpitations from caffeinated beverages. Some pediatricians warn that children and adolescents should avoid caffeine since it remains unknown how excessive caffeine intake impacts their developing brain – however there are no guidelines for kids’ intake of caffeine, which is also present in many soft drinks and chocolate, not just coffee and tea.

Pregnant women are advised to avoid caffeine or limit their intake to 300 mg per day or less. Some of the fatal consequences of consuming high amounts of caffeine include the increased risk of miscarriage, difficult birth, and having a baby with a low birth weight.

Athletes use sports supplements that contain caffeine to combat fatigue. Though caffeine does not belong to the list of prohibited substances under the World Anti-Doping Code 2015, athletes need to be aware of any specific anti-doping rules of their particular sport to ensure that caffeine is not a restricted drug for their disciplines. The International Olympic Committee prohibited high levels of caffeine equivalent to 5-6 cups per day from 1984 to 2004 but has since relaxed this restriction. [20]


[1] Courtney Columbus. Ethiopia’s Coffee Farmers Are ‘On The Front Lines Of Climate Change’.

[2] Nicolae Sfetcu. Health & Drugs: Disease, Prescription & Medication.

[3] Borota D et al. January 12, 2014. Post-study caffeine administration enhances memory consolidation in humans.

[4] Ascherio A et al. July 2001. Prospective study of caffeine consumption and risk of Parkinson’s disease in men and women.

[5] Louise M. Burke. December 2008. Caffeine and sports performance.

[6] Belinda Weber. October 23, 2013. Coffee consumption cuts liver cancer risk.

[7] Lucas M et al. July 2, 2013. Coffee, caffeine, and risk of completed suicide: Results from three prospective cohorts of American adults.

[8] Catharine Paddock. March 11, 2001. Medical News Today. Coffee May Reduce Stroke Risk In Women.

[9] David McNamee. April 25, 2014. Medical News Today. Increased coffee consumption may reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.

[10] Hyon K. Choi and Gary Curhan. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Coffee consumption and risk of incident gout in women: the Nurses’ Health Study.

[11] Jaquet M et al. March 31, 2009. Impact of coffee consumption on the gut microbiota: a human volunteer study.

[12] Derry S et al. July 14, 2015. Single dose oral ibuprofen plus caffeine for acute postoperative pain in adults.

[13] Effect of components of green tea extracts, caffeine and catechins on hepatic drug metabolizing enzyme activities and mutagenic transformation of carcinogens. Japanese Journal of Veterinary Research, 2005.

[14] Effects of encapsulated green tea and Guarana extracts containing a mixture of epigallocatechin-3-gallate and caffeine on 24 h energy expenditure and fat oxidation in men. BJN, 2005.

[15] Anti-obesity and anti-diabetic effects of Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) in C57BL/6J mice fed a high-fat diet. Lab Anim Res. 2012.

[16] Psychological effects of dietary components of tea: caffeine and L-theanine. Nutr Rev. 2008.

[17] Sandra Blakeslee. October 5, 1994. Yes, People Are Right. Caffeine Is Addictive

[18] American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-5)

[19] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. December 2012. Caffeine Intake by the U.S. Population (via web archive)

[20] Caffeine: Cognitive and Physical Performance Enhancer or Psychoactive Drug? (2015)

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