Caffeine - the good, the bad and the ugly

How many of you woke up this morning to a nice cup of tea or a mug of freshly brewed coffee? You're not alone; as a nation, the UK drinks about 70 million cups of coffee and 165 million cups of tea every day. But could the caffeine in your morning cuppa be harmful to your health? Caffeine dependency is more common than you might think, and cutting caffeine out of your healthy diet can cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Tea; a healthy choice

Did you know that around 40% of the nation's fluid intake comes solely from tea? Whether you like a builder's strong brew or prefer yours milky and sweet, all tea comes from the same place – the Camellia Sinensis plant. Tea is packed full of antioxidants which can boost heart health and polyphenols which protect against heart disease. Studies have even linked tea consumption to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Tea also contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which has the fantastic effect of boosting cognitive function and helping you feel more alert, whilst promoting a feeling of relaxation. There's a reason your morning cuppa makes you feel so good!

Coffee is not the bad guy

Coffee is also a rich source of polyphenol antioxidants, which can help mop up free radicals and protect our bodies. Consuming four to five cups of coffee a day could bring numerous health benefits. In 2009, a study linked consumption of coffee with a reduced risk of stroke for women.

It has also been discovered that drinking two to three cups of coffee a day decreases your risk of developing Parkinson's disease by up to 25%. Coffee could even protect you against Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Preliminary studies carried out on mice showed coffee consumption led to a 65% decrease in risk, although further research is needed to confirm whether this applies to humans too.

The dangers of caffeine

We're all told that caffeine is bad for us, but just how bad is it really? Research has shown that moderate doses of caffeine (50 to 450mg a day) can benefit cognitive function – improving reaction times and memory whilst boosting your ability to concentrate. Tea contains about half as much caffeine as coffee, and despite rumours that caffeine can cause dehydration, drinking four cups of tea a day hydrates the body just as well as four glasses of water. Of course adding milk and sugar to your cuppa adds calories and fat too, so everything in moderation! Green tea is a great alternative to black tea, but even that contains some caffeine.

Caffeine is a stimulant which occurs naturally in tea and coffee; it stimulates the central nervous system and although it's not as addictive as other drugs, it can still lead to mild physical dependence. Consuming more than a couple of cups of tea or coffee a day could mean you become caffeine-dependant. You may notice if you stop drinking tea or coffee that you experience withdrawal symptoms, which can include:

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety

  • Irritability

  • Fatigue

  • Depression

  • Difficulty concentrating

These feeling usually last for just a few days but if you're a true tea or coffee addict, they can feel worse.

The skinny

So should you give up your morning cuppa? Drinking moderate amounts of tea and coffee isn't harmful to health and could have numerous benefits. Try to drink your tea black, or add skimmed milk, no sugar, for the healthiest brew. For coffee, consider adding almond milk or soy milk, or make the switch to green tea or chicory coffee as a subsitute. As with anything, a little of what you fancy is fine; tea or coffee consumed as part of a balanced diet and exercise regime can help you stay healthy.

Author By Paula Beaton
Date On 11th Sep 2014 at 12:01

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