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Is Caffeine Bad for You?

You may have heard that caffeine is bad for you. Could it actually be good for you? Nutrition Diva explains

By
Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N,
Episode #033

Does Caffeine Make You a Better Athlete?

Caffeine also enhances athletic performance. In fact, up until recently, caffeine was considered a performance-enhancing drug by the International Olympic Committee and athletes had to keep their intake of caffeinated beverages fairly low to pass their drug screens. Unlike most performance-enhancing drugs, you can safely try this one at home. Have a cup or two of coffee one hour before your workout and you may be able to go a bit faster, stronger, and longer.

Myths about Caffeine

Many of the negative things you’ve heard about caffeine are actually myths, several of which I’ve debunked in previous shows.

It’s a myth, for example, that caffeine can increase pain, tenderness, or benign lumps in the breast, also called fibrocystic changes. Trial after trial has found no connection.  It’s also a myth that caffeine weakens your bones, as I explained in nutrition for healthy bones.

And, as I explained in the dehydration myth, caffeinated beverages are not dehydrating. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that it makes you pee more. But the fluids in coffee and tea more than replace any fluids that you lose due to the diuretic effect. Keep in mind, though, that caffeine pills don’t contain any fluids and, therefore, can be dehydrating.

Finally, you might have heard that caffeine or coffee is bad for your heart. Some studies have found that drinking unfiltered coffee—such as French press or percolated coffee—elevates cholesterol. It appears to be volatile oils in the coffee rather than caffeine that affect cholesterol, and only in men. But coffee drinkers are no more likely to develop heart disease. And although caffeinated coffee can temporarily increase your heart rate a bit, it does not cause irregular heartbeat.

What are the Downsides of Caffeine?

There are some legitimate downsides of caffeine but they are relatively minor. Some people find that too much caffeine makes them jittery, anxious, or disrupts their sleep. How many cups of coffee it takes to make your hair stand on end, or how late in the day you can drink a cup of coffee without staring at the ceiling all night, are subject to a high degree of individual variation..

If you drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages regularly, you’re much less likely to experience any negative side effects from caffeine. That’s because caffeine is highly habituating. Some might even say it’s addictive, although that seems a little harsh.

The biggest problem with being habituated to caffeine is that you might feel a little sleepy or headachey if you suddenly swear off it.

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
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