If you listen to some health practitioners, you’d think that caffeine is an evil drug that contributes to a long list of diseases. Don’t believe it!
Much of the anti-caffeine bias is predicated on a few isolated research studies from many years ago, which suggested that caffeine consumption increased the risk of cancer. However, upon closer examination, these studies were found to have serious flaws in their design. Some were plagued by errors in statistical analysis while others used enormous quantities of caffeine—far beyond what the normal individual consumes. Sure, if you feed a rat the equivalent of 50 cups of coffee a day it can have a deleterious effect on health. But, this means little to the average person.
When all the available research data is taken into account, there’s really no evidence that modest caffeine consumption causes any detriments to overall well being. In fact, some studies have actually found a negative correlation between caffeine and certain forms of cancer! Perhaps this is due to the fact that coffee – the primary source of most people’s caffeine intake – is replete in antioxidants. Better yet, recent research indicates that coffee consumption can help to reduce cardiovascular events in those with diabetes and improve autonomic function.
For those who exercise, moderate caffeine consumption can actually help to expedite the loss of body fat. It exerts its effects by acting on the sympathetic nervous system to increase catecholamine (i.e. epinephrine and norepinephrine) production. Catecholamines facilitate the release of free fatty acids from fat cells, allowing fat to be utilized for short-term energy. By consuming caffeine before a workout, you can heighten this fat-burning effect while simultaneously improving exercise performance.
Now this isn’t to say you should load up on caffeinated beverages. Caffeine is a stimulant and, at high doses, can cause a host of unwanted side effects such as hypertension, nervousness, insomnia and gastrointestinal distress. But assuming consumption is limited to about 300 milligrams a day – which amounts to approximately two cups of brewed coffee – it poses no known health risks in otherwise healthy individuals (although it can be contraindicated in certain medical conditions and during pregnancy – check with your physician if there’s any concern). Just make sure to go easy on the cream and sugar though as they can easily offset the caffeine-induced increase in metabolic rate and have a negative impact on fat storage. As an alternative, consider using skim milk and artificial sweeteners as flavor enhancers.
For those who want a terrific alternative to coffee, consider herbal green tea. In addition to containing caffeine, green tea also has compounds called catechins that serve to further increase metabolism. Catechins inhibit an enzyme called catechol-O-methyl-transferase, which is responsible for degrading noradrenaline, a potent hormone that promotes the oxidation of body fat. In combination, caffeine and catechins act synergistically to enhance resting energy expenditure beyond what is achieved by caffeine alone. Considering that it also has an even greater amount of antioxidants than coffee, green tea is a terrific beverage for keeping your body in peak condition. There is even evidence that, because of its concentration of flavonoids, it helps to increase bone density and stave off cardiovascular disease. Does this sound like an evil drug?
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