Caffeine – The (legal) wonder drug

Can’t get out of bed? Coffee. Low on energy? Coffee

Need a pre-workout? Coffee. Want to lose weight? Coffee.

According to the literature, caffeine/coffee provides us with a myriad of benefits, heath and otherwise, and has, hence, become a staple in our lifestyle. But is caffeine really worth all the hype it actually gets?

In this article, we are going to be discussing about that and how it, arguably, became one of the world’s most favorite drugs.

Caffeine- The Good

Caffeine, found in tea, cacao and coffee plants, works primarily by stimulating our brain and CNS (central nervous system). How you ask? Well, it happens in a couple of ways.

  • When we are awake, a chemical called adenosine starts to accumulate in our brain, and the more it does, the more we start to feel tired. Caffeine, owing to a chemical structure similar to that of adenosine, binds to the adenosine receptors in our brain. So, adenosine can’t bind anymore and voila! we no longer feel tired.
  • Caffeine elevates the levels of adrenaline & nor-adrenaline in our body a.k.a. the fight or flight hormones. This releases fat from the body in the form of free fatty acids (FFAs). But keep in mind, fat mobilization does not mean that it is getting utilized for energy. You still have to exercise!! Otherwise they just get stored as fat again.

Apart from this, caffeine does provide us with some other benefits as well-

  • Caffeine helps in burning more calories at rest by the virtue of increased thermogenesis and an increased metabolic rate. BUT, not enough to cause actual fat loss and can easily be negated if we consume some extra calories.
  • On a diet? Research has shown that caffeine helps in reducing your appetite by acting as an appetite suppressant.

Well, you read the benefits. Coffee doesn’t sound so bad after all. But hold on! Don’t go for your 10th cup of coffee just yet. Dosing on too much caffeine has its side effects too, especially if you’re having particular health issues.

  • Too much caffeine may cause anxiety, insomnia, increased heart rate, hence not recommended for people dealing with high blood pressure, and irritability.
  • Remember adenosine? Yes! The chemical which makes you feel tired. Well it turns out if you drink too much coffee, the brain responds by creating more adenosine receptors, which means you need more caffeine to enjoy the same benefits as you were before, thus increasing your dependence on it.
  • Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it can cause dehydration if taken in excess amounts.
  • Dealing with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)? Then you might want to take a pass on the diet coke. GABA-Gamma-aminobutyric acid, an amino acid produced naturally by the gut microbiome and in our brain, has a calming effect on our nervous system, and in turn the GI tract. Turns out, caffeine inhibits GABA release. Not the best of news if you have an already irritated gut, due to IBS.

Also, caffeine is highly acidic in nature and can cause hypersecretion of gastric fluids.

So, how much caffeine should you be having?

For an average adult, 400 mg of caffeine (usually 3-4 cups of coffee) should be the upper limit of your caffeine intake.

However, for the special population, the numbers may vary. Let’s take a look-

  • Pregnant Women: Pregnant women metabolize caffeine very slowly, to an extent where it takes almost 1.5-3.5 times longer for them to eliminate caffeine from their body as compared to non-pregnant women. As a result, the caffeine can flow through the placenta and into the baby’s blood stream, affecting the child’s health. Hence, not more than 200 mg of caffeine (1-2 cups) is considered safe when you’re expecting.
  • Old People: As we age, our tolerance level goes down and our enzymes start down-regulating as well. Around 50-100 mg of caffeine is the most amount elderly people can easily tolerate. [3]
  • Adolescents and children: While it is best to keep children away from caffeine, since it can easily be overdosed on, the total daily consumption of caffeine for adolescents should not exceed 100 mg/day. In children, not more than 2.5 mg/kg per day is the daily recommended dosage.[4]


Caffeine is, without a doubt, one of the best natural supplements that mankind has come across and indeed, provides the best bang for your buck. But prolonged heavy usage/overdosing on caffeine has some complications too, sometimes fatal.

Also, cycling your caffeine intake from time to time can help you avoid developing tolerance to caffeine. So, you can keep consuming moderate amounts and still reap the benefits.

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