For some, there’s nothing like the burst of energy from a morning cup of coffee or tea. And that’s perfectly OK. When consumed in moderation (no more than about two cups of coffee a day, for example), caffeine is safe for most people. In fact, research shows that people who consume caffeine may be less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, and the concerns that caffeine can cause cancer, heart attacks or strokes do not seem to be warranted, according to the latest research.
However, caffeine is a stimulant, and too much of it can leave you irritable, jumpy and unable to get a good night’s sleep. And in some cases, even small amounts of caffeine can impact or aggravate certain health conditions. If you enjoy foods or beverages that contain caffeine, such as colas and chocolate, take a moment to consider the following health issues:
Caffeine may cause short-lived spikes in blood pressure for some people. Normally, this isn’t a big worry. However, repeated instances may cause additional stress on your arteries, a potential concern if you already have hypertension.
PMS can involve the all-too-familiar symptoms of swollen or tender breasts, fatigue, mood swings, stomach upset, constipation, bloating and headache. Some women even develop fibrocystic breast disease, a non-cancerous condition that causes painful lumpiness and swelling of the breast tissue before menstrual periods. Although the role of caffeine in PMS is not yet entirely understood, there is evidence to support the possibility that it worsens symptoms such as breast tenderness and irritability. You may find limiting your caffeine intake before and during your period helpful.
Excessive amounts of caffeine may prevent your bones from absorbing calcium, which keeps them strong. This could factor into the development of osteopenia, or the more severe form of bone loss, osteoporosis. Caffeinated tea—particularly green tea—is less concerning, though. Research shows that the compounds in tea leaves actually stimulate bone formation and protect your skeleton from degeneration.
Caffeine can increase acid secretion in the stomach, and although that won’t cause an ulcer, it can make symptoms of an existing one worse. Caffeine can have the same effect on gastritis, where the stomach lining is already suffering from chronic inflammation. Bowel disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are also often aggravated by the stimulant’s jump-start effect on the intestines.
Studies show that small amounts of caffeine may not have a negative effect on a developing fetus, but doctors generally recommend that pregnant women avoid caffeine or consume it only sparingly. Large amounts (more than three cups of coffee a day) have been associated with heart defects, lower birth weight and elevated risk of spontaneous abortion. Talk to your doctor about how much caffeine is safe for you.