It’s a pleasant morning ritual too painful to part with. But is coffee good for your health? Similar to alcohol, the studies seem to seesaw back and forth.
The potential health benefits of drinking coffee are exciting news, but that doesn’t mean more is better.
For some people, coffee can cause irritability, nervousness or anxiety in high doses, and it can also impact sleep quality and cause insomnia. In people with hypertension, coffee consumption does transiently raise their
blood pressure although for no more than several hours–but no correlation has been found between coffee drinking and long-term increases in blood pressure or the incidence of cardiovascular disease in patients with pre-existing hypertension.
Caffeine affects every person differently, so if you experience any negative side effects, consider cutting your coffee consumption accordingly. It takes about six hours for the effects of caffeine to wear off, so limit coffee drinking to early in the day, or switch to decaf, which only contains about 2 to 12 mg of caffeine per eight ounces. Always taper your coffee consumption gradually. Avoid quitting coffee cold turkey; doing so can lead to caffeine withdrawal symptoms that may include severe headache, muscle aches and fatigue which can last for days.
There are cons for drinking coffee to consider:
If you’re sensitive to caffeine, it can cause irritability or anxiety in high doses (and what’s “high” varies from person to person). How? Chemically, caffeine looks a lot like adenosine, a “slow-down” brain chemical associated with sleep and relaxation of blood vessels. Caffeine binds to adenosine receptors on nerve cells, leaving no room for adenosine to get in—so nerve cell activity speeds up, blood vessels constrict—and you get a caffeine buzz (or irritable jitters).
Of course, if you caffeinate yourself daily, you’ll likely develop tolerance to its effects and the jitters will subside. But that also means that eventually you’ll need a regular caffeine fix just to reach your baseline level of alertness. And your body will adapt by producing more adenosine receptors, making you more sensitive to the effects of adenosine. So if you don’t have your daily cup, you’ll likely develop withdrawal symptoms like extreme fatigue and splitting headaches (caused by constricted blood vessels).
If you’re having trouble sleeping it might help to cut down on caffeinated coffee, or to drink it only early in the day. Generally it takes about 6 hours for the caffeine to clear your system, although it varies from person to person. The sleep-robbing effects may worsen as we age, too, a recent study suggests.
Boiled or unfiltered coffee (such as that made with a French press, or Turkish-style coffee) contains higher levels of cafestol, a compound that can increase blood levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Choose filtered methods instead, such as a drip coffee maker.
Prudence for Pregnant and Nursing Women
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology says it’s safe for pregnant women to get a moderate amount of caffeine (no more than 200 mg, equivalent to 2 cups of coffee per day), but warns that it’s still not clear if higher intakes could increase risk of miscarriage. Since caffeine can pass into breast milk, nursing moms should cut down if their babies are restless or irritable.