Caffeine. It’s the most popular stimulant in the world. Maybe you just can’t start functioning in the morning without that first cup of coffee, or maybe you like the little boost you get from your favorite energy drink before you head to the gym. Either way, odds are that most of us consume at least one caffeinated beverage every single day. If you are one of those people, you are one of the billions; as research has found, that 80% of the world’s population consumes caffeine daily, with that number going up as high as 90% where North America is concerned.
Where do we get our caffeine?
Often, we might be consuming caffeine without even knowing it. Some beverages can be incredibly misleading, with even ‘decaffeinated’ coffee containing some caffeine! Let’s quickly go over where exactly we’re getting all this caffeine from in the first place.
- A cup of coffee contains approximately 102 - 200 mg
- One espresso contains approximately 240 - 720 mg
- A cup of decaffeinated coffee contains approximately 3 - 12 mg
- A cup of brewed tea contains approximately 40 - 120 mg
- One Yerba mate contains approximately 65 - 130 mg
- An energy drink contains approximately 50 - 160 mg
- A soft drink, like Coca Cola contains approximately 20 - 40 mg
- A cocoa beverage, like hot chocolate or chocolate milk, contains approximately 2 - 7 mg
The average beverage serving size is 240 ml or 8 ounces. These amounts of caffeine are based on this average measure, so be cautious about your serving size or you may end up consuming more caffeine than you bargained for.
Beverages are not all you need to watch out for, though. Caffeine also sneaks its way into our systems through some foods, mainly chocolate and chocolate-flavored foods! An ounce, or 28 grams, of dark chocolate, can contain 5-35 mg, whereas the same amount of milk chocolate will contain about 1-15 mg. Generally, it’s safe to assume that the darker the chocolate, the more caffeine it will contain.
Lastly, keep a close eye on your medications. Cold and flu medications can really pack a punch in the caffeine department. So as we ought to do with any medication, do your research and make sure you know exactly what you are putting into your body.
How much can we have each day?
The United States Food and Drug Administration has recommended an upper limit of 400 milligrams of caffeine per day for a healthy adult to consume, without experiencing the negative or detrimental side effects of caffeine.
This is not a one-size-fits-all recommendation though. There is a vast difference in how sensitive people are to the impacts of caffeine, and the speed at which they can metabolize it.
A variety of conditions, and some medications, can also increase sensitivity to caffeine in people. If an individual is trying to become pregnant, is currently pregnant, breastfeeding, suffering from a medical condition, or on regular medication, it is best to consult your doctor for advice on what your personal caffeine limit should be.
With regard to minors, the American Academy of Pediatrics has denounced the use of caffeine in children and adolescents.
What does caffeine do to our bodies?
When we consume caffeine, its effects mainly impact the brain. Caffeine blocks the effect of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that works by relaxing your brain and promoting feelings of tiredness. Adenosine effects accumulate over the course of the day, causing you to feel a steady incline in how tired and sleepy you feel. By affixing to the adenosine receptors without actually activating them, the caffeine stops the impacts of adenosine in their tracks and helps you to stay awake! In addition to this, caffeine increases blood adrenaline levels, and brain activity of dopamine and norepinephrine, the combination of which works to further stimulate your brain and bring about heightened alertness.
Caffeine isn’t just a psychoactive stimulant though. It impacts your body’s metabolism in a multitude of ways. Here are the most common effects:
- It increases energy, making you feel wide awake by stimulating the central nervous system.
- It is a diuretic, and so it assists your body in ridding itself of excess salt and water by way of more frequent urination.
- It bumps up the amount of acid released in your stomach, which can often result in heartburn or stomach pain.
- It creates interference in your body’s regular calcium absorption processes.
- It can lead to a spike in blood pressure.
An hour or so after you consume caffeine, it will reach its peak blood saturation level. The effects of which continue to be felt for up to six hours.
But these aren’t all the effects you can experience by consuming caffeine. There are many more unpleasant side effects if you consume too much caffeine. It causes a host of health issues, not limited to these:
- Arrhythmia or tachycardia
- Chronic Dizziness
- Restlessness and quivering
- Formation of a dependency/mild addiction
Does caffeine actually stunt growth?
“I want to be 5’10” like Cindy Crawford.”
This iconic line from the cult classic movie ‘Clueless’, sees main character Cher explaining her reasoning behind why she won't drink coffee; it would stunt her growth, and then she’d never grow to reach the coveted height of Cindy Crawford, one of the most famous supermodels in the world. It’s likely that we all wouldn’t mind being a little bit more like Cindy Crawford, but contrary to Cher’s beliefs, caffeine is not what is stopping us!
Caffeine is one of the most highly researched and scrutinized stimulants known to man, and the science which goes into all this research simply doesn’t support the popular claim that caffeine stunts growth. Height is determined by a combination of genetics and the overall quality of health while growing up during those important formative years. If you take care of your health and nutrition as you mature, you will be able to achieve the maximum height provided for you by your genes, with or without coffee.
The popular belief that caffeine stunts growth is likely rooted in the claim that osteoporosis can develop as a result of caffeine consumption. Osteoporosis can actually make people shorter than they were prior to suffering from the condition if their spine develops compression fractures. However, it isn’t the osteoporosis itself that causes the shortening; it‘s the fractures.
In the past, studies have reported a correlation between coffee drinkers and a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. It’s important to remember though, correlation does not equal causation. The studies detailed the stimulation by caffeine to eliminate the absorption of calcium by the body—a factor contributing to the development of osteoporosis. However, the eliminated calcium of eight ounces of coffee was of such a small amount it could be replaced by a single tablespoon of milk.
In addition, when these studies were analyzed, it showed that the people who consumed more coffee (i.e. caffeine), consumed substantially fewer beverages containing calcium. This confirmed the suggestion that the risk of osteoporosis was caused by the dietary insufficiencies of calcium and vitamin D common in those who regularly consume caffeine.
An official recommendation by the National Institute of Health states that moderate consumption of caffeine will have no adverse effects on growth and bone formation when coupled with a diet sufficient in calcium.
Are there any pros to consuming caffeine?
Apart from the fact that it is not technically bad for you, there may actually be some plus sides to your daily dose of caffeine. It might actually enhance your mood and the way your brain functions. In its ability to block adenosine, caffeine causes a spike in other molecules — dopamine and norepinephrine. This chemical switch-up benefits your mood and the functioning of your brain.
In one review, it was reported that participants who ingested between 37.5 mg and 450 mg of caffeine had heightened levels of alertness, reflexes, and short-term recall.
A different study showed that individuals who drink two or three cups of coffee each day (up to 300 mg of caffeine) could be up to 45% less at risk of suicide. Another suggested that those who consume caffeine are 13% less at risk of depression.
While this is great news for all the coffee-addicts, it's important to note that sometimes less is more! It has been found that the second cup of coffee did not generate any greater benefits than the first. The exception to this is if the second instance of consumption occurs a minimum of 8 hours after the first.
Lastly, evidence has shown that drinking 3 cups of tea or 3 to 5 cups of coffee each day might significantly reduce the risk of cognitive diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s by anywhere from 28% to 60%.
We will drink to that!
What’s the takeaway?
So, now we know that caffeine isn’t actually all that bad, the best way to go about things is to employ the age-old mantra ‘enjoy everything in moderation.’ For many of us, there's nothing quite like that first sip of piping hot black coffee in the morning, and a cup of tea just won't fill that hole in our soul. Luckily, we now know it doesn’t have to! It’s completely fine, and perhaps even encouraged, to have that cup of coffee and maybe even a couple more, as long as we don’t go over 400 mg of caffeine. It might not help us grow, but it definitely won't stop us!
Don’t forget that we also need to make sure we’re getting all the calcium and vitamin D our bodies need. So add some milk to your caffeinated beverage, whether it’s tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, and use it to wash down a vitamin D supplement to cover all your bases.
Pay special attention to kids and teenagers, who often seem like they’re on a dedicated mission to chug endless energy drinks, and make sure they’re also getting everything their growing bodies need to achieve their full potential.
We might not end up looking like Cindy Crawford, but we definitely will not be stunting our growth!