Is Coffee Harmful to Your Health?

Is Coffee Harmful to Your Health? A Daily Apple on the Effects of Caffeine in Coffee and other foods.

There’s something incredibly soothing about waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. However, millions of coffee drinkers don’t just take their cup of joe daily because of its aroma; it’s also a delight because of how it helps to kick-start their day and keep their energy levels high. When you get down to the nitty-gritty of coffee, you’ll discover the magic behind its superpower is caffeine, a natural stimulant that can boost your energy levels and help burn fat. Apart from coffee, dozens of popular energy drinks contain caffeine, explaining the stimulant effect of these drinks.

Amid the benefits of caffeine, there are also concerns about its safety, which may diminish these benefits. This post will evaluate the positive and negative effects of caffeine and help you understand how to enjoy a caffeinated beverage for all the good stuff and none of the bad.

Short Answer: No, as long as you are taking it at a reasonable level, about 2 cups of brewed coffee daily in one sitting or 3-5 over the day.

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a naturally occurring central nervous stimulant found in the leaves, seeds, and fruits of more than 60 plants. There is also synthetic caffeine added to foods, beverages, and drugs. However, both natural and artificial caffeine are alike in chemical structure and have the same effects on the body.

The morning coffee ritual
Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

How does the Caffeine in Coffee work?

If you’re feeling dizzy or tired, taking a beverage containing caffeine can keep you from feeling sleepy because it promotes alertness. It does this by blocking a receptor called the adenosine receptor in your brain. The result leaves adenosine is floating around, which triggers the release of adrenaline, a stimulant to keep you from falling asleep. You can start feeling the effect of caffeine within five minutes of taking a caffeine-containing beverage, and this effect typically lasts up to six hours. 

The brain counteracts regular intake by creating more adenosine receptors to mop up floating adenosine. The implication here is that, over time, you need more caffeine to deliver the same effect. These changes in the brain are the reason for the withdrawal symptoms you feel when you decide to stop taking caffeine.

Which Foods, drinks, and drugs other than coffee contain caffeine?

Due to its effect on energy levels, alertness and mood, caffeine is a popular ingredient in foods and beverages, so you might be consuming more caffeine than you think. Some foods that contain caffeine include ice cream, bagels, chewing gum, and chocolate. Manufacturers often label these products as caffeine-containing, so you need to look at the label to know if they contain. There are also natural food substances like kola nuts that contain caffeine. Energy drinks and beverages like green tea and Yerba mate drinks contain caffeine. Some painkillers also include caffeine as one of their ingredients because of its pain-relieving effect.

Chocolate contains caffeine, approximately 5.5 to 35.5mg per 50g bar, not as much as in a cup of coffee
Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

What Does Coffee do to the Body? The Effects of Caffeine

While most people think of caffeine as the substance in their beverage that keeps them awake, caffeine does a lot more than that. Caffeine appears to affect virtually every part of your body and in many conditions.

Coffee and Brain Health

Positive effects on brain functioning include increased alertness, well-being, concentration, and mood. Lifelong coffee intake has been associated with decreased cognitive decline, reduced risk of stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Coffee improves neurocognitive functioning on studies by improving and reorganizing a process known as functional connectivity in the brain.

What about higher coffee consumption?

A study of 2,914 participants showed mixed results: there was a decreased prevalence of certain types of strokes (lacunar infarcts); however, the hippocampal volume was smaller, a part of the brain known for memory and positional sense; people also performed worse on specific memory tests.

In extreme situations, and contrary to low to moderate doses, there may be harms to brain health from the stimulant effects of caffeine. One study showed that coffee consumption of >6 cups/day compared to light use had a higher association with dementia (53% higher odds = OR 1.53.)

Coffee and the Heart 

While a low to moderate amount of caffeine isn’t detrimental to your heart health, the stimulant effect of this substance on your heart can slightly increase your heartbeat. You can also have slightly elevated blood pressure when you take caffeine, but it doesn’t increase your risk of heart disease. The blood pressure increases are particularly noticeable when taken after physical activity or exercise.

Digestion Effects

Most times, taking two to three cups of a caffeine-containing beverage won’t cause any digestive problems. However, caffeine can increase the acid level in your stomach and stimulate the movement of gut motility, which may lead to diarrhea.

Bladder control

While caffeine is a diuretic that can increase your frequency of urination, research has also linked it to urinary incontinence because it can make the muscles that contract when you void become overactive. Consuming two or more cups of brewed coffee daily, equivalent to at least 250 mg of caffeine, can cause urinary incontinence.

Sleep and anxiety

Consuming too much caffeine can cause jitters because it works by boosting adrenaline levels. When taken at night, caffeine can disrupt your sleep, and if you have an anxiety disorder, it can also make it worse. However, taking moderate amounts of caffeine can enhance mood and reduce suicide risk. It is recommended to avoid caffeine intake in the afternoon.

Caffeine and Weight loss

Many weight loss drugs use caffeine because it increases metabolism and decreases appetite. Taking caffeine before exercise can also increase the rate of fat-burning. If you’ve experienced a diet-induced weight loss, taking caffeine has also been linked to preventing weight regain.

Caffeine and Pregnancy

Taking caffeine during pregnancy can increase the risk of a miscarriage or cause development issues in newborns. The study showed that consuming more than 300mg a day during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of miscarriage (RR 1.37; RR 2.32 for 600mg/day) It is generally advised to limit your caffeine intake if you’re trying to conceive and, if you’re pregnant, you should not consume more than 200mg of caffeine per day which is equivalent to one 12-ounce cup of coffee. It is still unclear if even this may be too high.

two shots of espresso coffee carries 40mg/ounce of caffeine
Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

Consuming low to moderate caffeine does not pose any significant health risks for most people. But what exactly is a reasonable intake of caffeine? 

For adults, moderate caffeine is about 300 mg a day, and if you want to know if your intake of caffeine is excessive, you can look at what most of the familiar sources of caffeine contain below.

Taking high amounts of caffeine can cause headaches, also a withdrawal symptom. Other caffeine overdose symptoms include confusion, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Besides headaches, caffeine withdrawal can cause anxiety, fatigue, drowsiness, and depression.

For individuals with certain underlying health conditions, such as an irregular heart rhythm, caffeine can exacerbate symptoms related to this condition. If you are concerned that caffeine consumption might worsen your health condition, consult a healthcare professional before consuming caffeinated products.

ProductAverage amount of caffeine per serving
Brewed coffee85mg per 190ml cup (10mg/ounce)
Brewed tea50mg per 190 ml cup
Chocolate5.5 – 35.5 mg per 50g bar
Cola drinks (diet or regular)8- 53 mg per 250 ml glass
Some soft drinks24mg per 250ml glass
Energy drink containing caffeine28-87mg per 250ml glass
Single Shot Espresso40mg/ounce
Instant Coffee75mg per 190ml cup

Final thoughts on Coffee

In most adults, caffeine is generally safe as long as it is in doses below 400mg per day for a short time. That equates to about 2 cups at one time or 3-5 over the course of a day. Taking caffeine for a longer time or in higher doses can lead to insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, increased heart, stomach irritation, and nausea. Furthermore, if you notice signs like chest pain, heart palpitations, elevated heart rate, or difficulty in breathing, stop taking caffeine-containing products and notify your doctor.


“Coffee and chocolate—the inventor of mocha should be sainted.”
― Cherise Sinclair

Hour of the Lion

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