Is Drinking Caffeine a Bad Thing?

Millions of Americans wake up to a cup of hot coffee each day.
Millions of Americans wake up to a cup of hot coffee each day. (Image: Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Caffeine is one of the last remaining drugs that is socially acceptable to consume. Approximately 96 percent of Americans report consuming caffeine regularly, according to "The Psychologist." Drinking caffeinated beverages has both benefits and drawbacks for your health.

Causes Addiction

Caffeine addiction is a real phenomenon, according to Dr. James Bibb of UT Southwestern Medical Center. Those who regularly consume caffeinated beverages such as coffee or energy drinks can suffer real negative health effects when they stop. Common side effects of caffeine withdrawal include headaches and fatigue. However, caffeine addiction differs from other types of addiction in that the users do not seem to need caffeine in increasing amounts to get the same effects, and caffeine consumption does not seem to create the same drug-seeking behaviors that other addictive substances cause, according to WebMD.

Exaggerates the Stress Response

Caffeine can exaggerate the body's response to stress, as drinking too much can leave you feeling jittery or nervous. This jittery feeling has a scientific basis -- Bibb states that caffeine blocks the body's adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a chemical used by the brain to prevent the overstimulation of the nerve cells. When the adenosine receptor is blocked, the nervous system can become excited and overstimulated at the cellular level, causing the person to have problems transitioning from wakefulness to sleep. As a result, caffeine drinkers may have difficulty falling asleep when they consume a caffeinated beverage less than six hours before bedtime, according to Bibb.

Increases Alertness and Concentration

Caffeine has the positive effect of increasing alertness and concentration levels. It can also improve a person's short-term memory and speed reaction times, according to a 2005 study presented at the Radiological Society of North America. A 2010 review of studies on caffeine and cognition that appeared in the "Journal of Alzheimer's Disease" also indicates that caffeine enhances passive learning and prevents cognitive decline in healthy subjects.

Fights Cancer-Causing Free Radicals

A 2011 study published in the "Journal of Physical Chemistry B" indicates that some of the substances in coffee fight free radicals, molecules in the body that damage healthy cells, leading to cancer and other diseases. Coffee contains antioxidants that help fight free radicals. The chief source of the antioxidants is believed to be the caffeine, which means that other caffeinated beverages may also help prevent cancer and other diseases. However, more research is needed to confirm that hypothesis.

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