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Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world. People love coffee for its irresistible aroma and taste, ability to energize, and because it helps clear the mind.
Studies have shown an appropriate daily intake of caffeine can reduce the risk of senile dementia, also known as Alzheimer’s disease, while significantly lowering serious health risks such as cardiovascular diseases.
Dr. He Wenxing, a physician at the Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine of Yingde People’s Hospital in Guangdong Province elaborates on how drinking coffee impacts the human brain and health. He specifically mentions seven groups of people who should avoid caffeine and coffee.
Caffeine’s Impact on the Human Brain
A 2016 study published in the Journals of Gerontology, tracked 6,467 women aged 65 and above for up to 10 years, investigating the relationship between caffeine intake and cognitive impairment or probable dementia.
The study findings suggested an inverse association between caffeine intake and age-related cognitive dysfunction. Older women with higher than the median caffeine intake were found to be less likely to suffer from dementia or age-related cognitive impairment.
The median level of caffeine consumption was 261 mg, equivalent to three 8-ounce cups of coffee, or six cups of black tea.
Another study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007 found that drinking coffee can reduce cognitive decline in older males.
A total of 676 healthy older men from Finland, Italy, and the Netherlands, born between 1900 and 1920, participated in the 10-year prospective group study. The study suggests that elderly men who do not drink coffee have a higher cognitive decline than coffee drinkers, with the least cognitive decline for those who drink three cups of coffee daily.
According to Dr. He, caffeine inhibits sterile inflammation responses in the brain and reduces the production and deposition of abnormal proteins that cause senile dementia. Thus, it lessens the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease.
How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?
If coffee is good for preventing cognitive impairment, does that mean the more, the better?
Research published in the international academic journal Nutritional Neuroscience in 2022 shows that high coffee consumption may lead to brain volume atrophy and an increased risk of dementia or stroke.
The research analyzed the coffee-drinking habits of 398,646 British Biological Sample Bank participants between 37 and 73 years old and examined the associations with brain volume and with the incidence of dementia and stroke.
Compared with participants who only drink a small amount of coffee, results showed that people who drink over six cups of coffee per day, are 53 percent more likely to suffer from senile dementia than those who drink one to two cups daily, with less evidence of an association with stroke.
What Is the Ideal Amount of Daily Caffeine Intake?
A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology in 2022 showed that two to three cups of coffee a day could significantly lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and death compared with non-coffee drinkers.
A review published in the British Medical Journal in 2017 found that consuming up to four cups of coffee daily can minimize specific health risks compared with no coffee intake, including all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, cardiovascular diseases, and liver and kidney diseases.
Dr. He suggests that it’s better for middle-aged and older people over 50 to consume three to four cups of coffee a day. “Everyone can adjust the amount according to personal preferences and physical conditions. A reasonable and long-term coffee intake is good for our health,” he said.
Who Should Avoid Caffeine?
Although coffee can be beneficial, it is not suitable for everyone. Dr. He states that seven groups of people should avoid caffeine consumption.
1. Children: Children are naturally full of energy and active. Caffeine is a potent nervous system stimulant that may cause insomnia and restlessness, and can affect a child’s developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that children and adolescents should avoid caffeinated beverages, which can cause physical dependence and addiction.
2. Pregnant women: Although you may be able to handle some caffeine while pregnant, your baby lacks the enzymes needed to metabolize it. One study shows that caffeine intake may be related to the increased risk of spontaneous abortion or miscarriage in non-smoking pregnant women.
Based on the most latest findings, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends limiting caffeine consumption during pregnancy to less than 200 mg per day.
Sources of caffeine include coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, and even some over-the-counter headache medications.
3. People with sleep disorders: drinking coffee can easily aggravate insomnia and cause more severe sleep deprivation and significant damage to health.
Research shows that frequent caffeine intake reduces subjective sleep quality and prolongs sleep incubation; it also causes slow-wave sleep reduction, increased sleep fragmentation, and shortened sleep duration.
In addition, the timing of caffeine consumption is an important consideration for those with sleep disorders. The study found that acute caffeine intake can delay sleep initiation and reduce sleep intensity, particularly when consumed in the evening.
4. People with panic and anxiety disorders: Caffeine can easily trigger sudden panic and anxiety. A meta-analysis examining the effects of caffeine on anxiety and panic attacks in patients with panic disorder (PD) found that consuming caffeine, roughly equivalent to about five cups of coffee, induces anxiety in patients with PD as well as healthy individuals, and triggers panic attacks.
5. Patients with high blood pressure: Be mindful of when you consume caffeine. Avoid caffeine as soon as you wake up or right before activities that naturally increase blood pressure, such as exercise, to avoid a sudden and rapid elevation in blood pressure.
One study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that heavy coffee consumption was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular-related mortality among people with severe hypertension, but not those without hypertension or with grade 1 hypertension. In contrast, green tea consumption was not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular-related mortality across all categories of blood pressure.
6. People with iron deficiency anemia: Polyphenols, phytic acid, and other ingredients in coffee can affect iron absorption. One study found that drinking coffee while eating a hamburger meal can reduce iron absorption by 39 percent, and by as much as 64 percent with a cup of tea. However, no decrease in iron absorption occurred when coffee was consumed one hour before a meal. People with iron deficiency anemia should be aware of the impact of caffeine on iron absorption.
7. People with irritable bowel syndrome: Irritable bowel syndrome is a gastrointestinal dysfunction disease with intermittent abdominal distension, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, which caffeine can aggravate.
In summary, according to these studies, an appropriate daily intake of caffeine—the amount in about three cups of coffee—may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular diseases, while people who drink over six cups of coffee per day may increase the risk of suffering from senile dementia. Moreover, caffeine is not suitable for everyone.
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