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Caffeine and Coffee: Benefits and Drawbacks

There is something pretty magical about that first sip of coffee in the morning: from the taste, to the energized feeling it gives, it is no wonder that 62% of Americans drink coffee every day (“National Coffee Association”). In fact, 90% of Americans consume caffeine infused drinks daily, including coffee, tea and energy drinks (O'Callaghan). While we know caffeine is to thank for waking us up and getting us through our long days, coffee is also rich in beneficial substances like polyphenols, antioxidants, Vitamin B3, Riboflavin, Magnesium, and Potassium (Wolde). Not only that, habitual coffee consumption has potentially favorable effects on health including lessening the risk of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and can have a favorable effect on liver function as well as a potential role in weight loss (Mejia and Ramirez-Mares). Before discussing these in more depth, it is important to understand the benefits and drawbacks of caffeine, how much is too much, and the role of coffee’s other ingredients and their effects in our body.

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a naturally occurring chemical stimulant found in the leaves, seeds and fruits of different plant species. Caffeine is absorbed quickly and travels to the brain, without collecting in the blood or being stored in the body (Wolde). Caffeine primarily acts on adenosine receptors in the brain, which are most commonly related to sleep, arousal, and cognition (O'Callaghan). There is no explicit nutritional need for caffeine, but it does excite the brain and nervous system, therefore being a short-term solution for tiredness, as we all might be familiar with! Positive short-term effects of caffeine include: increased alertness, decreased fatigue, improved mood, and increased metabolic rate. On the negative side, caffeine can increase anxiety, is easy to become dependent on, and it increases the stimulation of urination (Messina). Caffeine also has withdrawal effects, such as drowsiness, headaches, irritability and nausea when stopped abruptly (Wolde).

Effects of Coffee and Caffeine

Moderate consumption for adults of about 400mg or less of caffeine a day, or 4 or 5 eight-ounce cups of coffee, is considered safe by the FDA, and good news: has been shown to have limited adverse effects in adults (Mejia and Ramirez-Mares). In fact, most health issues related to coffee and caffeine are caused by intakes well above the recommended amounts, and therefore, should not be a concern of moderate consumption coffee consumers. One health concern is that it can cause calcium to be excreted more rapidly through urine, leading to bone loss, but this is with upwards of 750mg of caffeine per day (Mejia and Ramirez-Mares). If you think you may be consuming this much caffeine regularly, talk with your doctor on ways you can up your calcium intake to avoid bone loss.

Another more common concern with the consumption of caffeine is sleep deprivation. While caffeine has the ability to improve our performance, disrupting sleep cycles is a common side effect. One way caffeine disrupts sleep is that it reduces the metabolite that’s found in melatonin, the hormone associated with our sleep and wake cycle (O'Callaghan). Caffeine’s effect’s usually last approximately 4 to 6 hours, and consuming it too close to one’s bedtime can lead to insomnia. While caffeine makes us feel more energized, it is no replacement for a good night’s rest. Using caffeine to stay up late at night can lead to loss of sleep, which in turn increases anxiety and decrease productiveness the following day (Foley). Keeping your consumption of caffeine below the recommended amount, and sticking to drinking it in the mornings, not too close to sleep times is best. One last health concern with caffeine relates to pregnant women, as caffeine can cross the placenta into the fetus and lead to increased risk of miscarriage, low birth weight and premature birth. Therefore, if you are pregnant caffeine intake should be restricted to less than 200mg a day, about one 12oz coffee (Brody).

So, now that the few health concerns of caffeine have been addressed, let talk about what our morning coffee runs can do for us, on top of keeping us going throughout the day. Coffee is filled with polyphenols, compounds naturally found in plant foods. While many fruits and vegetables contain more polyphenols than coffee, we often consume less of these important food groups in our Western eating patterns . Coffee is no replacement for fruits and vegetables, of course, but it is consumed regularly in America, making it a main, and important source of polyphenols in our diet (Messina). Polyphenols act as antioxidants that neutralize free radicals that would otherwise damage your cells.Specifically, they can help to protect against diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease (Messina). Coffee’s strongest protective effects are on Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. For Type 2 diabetes, having the recommended amount of coffee, decaf or caffeinated, instead of no coffee, is correlated with a 30% reduction of risk of the disease (Makeen). This reduction is caused by polyphenols, caffeine’s effect on decreasing insulin secretion, and coffee’s overall effect on glucose uptake and metabolism (Akash). Coffee also has an effect on degenerative brain disease. In Alzheimer’s disease, coffee has been hypothesized as being a preventative measure. Specifically, that consumption of coffee, and its caffeine and polyphenols, in moderation protects against the development of the disease. In Parkinson’s disease, caffeinated coffee drinkers are at a 30% lower risk than non-coffee drinkers for developing the disease (Wierzejska). On top of these benefits, one eight-ounce cup of coffee is filled with vitamins, like 11% of the daily recommend amount of riboflavin, 6% recommended amount of Vitamin B5, as well as small amounts of Manganese, Potassium, Magnesium and Niacin (Gunnars). While those percentages may seem small, it can still add to your nutritional intake.

Additional Caffeine Sources

While we have focused on caffeine in coffee so far, it is important to mention a growing market of caffeinated beverages: energy drinks. Today, energy drinks range from 50mg of caffeine to 505mg per can, and many are considered dietary supplements, exempting them from regulation by the FDA (Reissig). With high levels of caffeine, there is concern of caffeine intoxication, as well as caffeine dependence and withdrawal, specifically among young adults and teens who they are often marketed to (Reissig). Being aware of how much caffeine energy drinks contain, as well as whether they are regulated or not are important factors on deciding to consume them or not. As with any dietary supplement, caution on their claims should be paid attention to, and although they are a stiff competition to caffeine levels of coffee, you lose many of the benefits coffee itself provides along with that caffeine boost.

The Bottom Line:

It seems to be good news for coffee lovers, as coffee and caffeine have many benefits towards our overall health. Now that we know all of coffee and caffeine’s benefits and drawbacks, here are some tips to keep your coffee habits healthy. While black coffee alone has virtually zero calories, sweetened coffee beverages like Frappuccino’s and specialty drinks can have upwards of 500 calories and well over the American Heart Association (“How Much Sugar Is Too Much?”) daily recommended added sugar intake of 24g for women and 36g for men, in just one drink. If your goals are in line with limiting sugar intake, when making or ordering coffee drinks out, try to skip the sugar syrups, or ask for half the amount that’s usually added. For example, if a vanilla latte has 4 pumps of vanilla syrup, try asking for 2 pumps instead. Switching to lower fat milks or milk alternatives, rather than cream, can also lower the amount of saturated fat and calories in your drink. Drinking those specialty drinks on occasion, rather than daily, and opting for small size versus larges is another option. Lastly, whatever caffeine source you choose, make sure to consume your caffeine in the mornings to avoid any sleep issues. Cheers!

Written by: Carley Higgins on behalf of Supriya Lal, RD


Akash, Muhammad Sajid, et al. “Effects of Coffee on Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.” Nutrition, vol. 30, no. 7-8, 2014, pp. 755–763., doi:10.1016/j.nut.2013.11.020.

Brody, Jane E. “The Health Benefits of Coffee.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 June 2021,

Foley, Logan. “Caffeine's Connection to Sleep Problems.” Sleep Foundation, 22 Jan. 2021,

G, Messina, et al. “The Beneficial Effects of Coffee in Human Nutrition.” Biology and Medicine, vol. 07, no. 04, 2015, doi:10.4172/0974-8369.1000240.

Gunnars, Kris. “13 Health Benefits of Coffee, Based On Science .” Healthline , 20 Sept. 2018,

“How Much Sugar Is Too Much?”,

Mackeen, Dawn. “Is Coffee Good for You?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Feb. 2020,

Mejia, Elvira Gonzalez, and Marco Vinicio Ramirez-Mares. “Impact of Caffeine and Coffee on Our Health.” Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, vol. 25, no. 10, 2014, pp. 489–492., doi:10.1016/j.tem.2014.07.003.

O'Callaghan, Frances, et al. “Effects of Caffeine on Sleep Quality and Daytime Functioning.” Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, Volume 11, 2018, pp. 263–271., doi:10.2147/rmhp.s156404.

“National Coffee Association.” NCA, 26 Mar. 2020,

Reissig, Chad J., et al. “Caffeinated Energy Drinks—A Growing Problem.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, vol. 99, no. 1-3, 2009, pp. 1–10., doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2008.08.001.

Wierzejska, Regina. “Can Coffee Consumption Lower the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease? A Literature Review.” Archives of Medical Science, vol. 3, 2017, pp. 507–514., doi:10.5114/aoms.2016.63599.

Wolde, Tsedeke. “Effects Of Caffeine on Health and Nutrition: A Review .” Food Science and Quality Management , vol. 30, 2014.

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