Health Benefits of Caffeine – Truth or Myth?

People have enjoyed caffeinated beverages for many years. The earliest record of caffeine consumption dates back to at least 2700 B.C., when Chinese Emperor Shen Nung drank hot brewed tea.

Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in the leaves, seeds or fruits of at least 100 different species worldwide and is part of a group of compounds known as methylxanthines. The most commonly known sources of caffeine are coffee, cocoa beans, cola nuts and tea leaves. Caffeine is also added to specifically formulated ‘energy drinks’ and pharmaceutical products such as cold and flu remedies.

Coffee and tea also contain other dimethylxanthines; theophylline which has similar properties to caffeine and theobromine whose pharmacological actions is far less potent than caffeine and theophylline.

The amount of caffeine present in products depends on the type of the product, the serving size and the preparation method. Caffeine levels of tea as consumed in the UK have been determined in a recent survey conducted for the FSA Food Surveillance Unit. In this survey caffeine in a serving of tea, as brewed by adults in the UK, was found to be typically 33mg in a 190ml cup.

On average we consume 3.98mg of caffeine /kg body weight per day ie 239mg/ day for a 60kg person.

Up to 300mg/day (6 cups of tea) is considered moderate, with no evidence of harmful effects in the vast majority of the adult population. Some individuals are sensitive to caffeine and will feel effects at smaller doses than do individuals who are less sensitive. For this reason, these individuals may need to limit their caffeine intake.

Caffeine and Health

The role of caffeine in the development of certain diseases and conditions has been the subject of extensive research in recent years.

  • Cancer

A number of studies investigating the impact of caffeine in the development of cancer have consistently failed to establish a relationship.  In fact, tea is one of the richest sources of flavonoids, a powerful group of antioxidants. The role of antioxidants in the prevention of free radical damage has led to suggestions that tea maybe anti-carcinogenic.

  • Heart Disease

A number of studies have investigated the relationship between caffeine and heart disease. A review of the available data on caffeine and health concluded that ≤ 400mg caffeine/ day does not adversely affect cardiovascular health. Furthermore it has been suggested that the beneficial effects of the flavonoids present in tea may offset any potential adverse effects of caffeine. The Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy concluded that ‘there is little evidence that caffeine itself has any relation with CHD risk’ in the 1994 Nutritional Aspects of Cardiovascular Disease report.

  •  Parkinson’s Disease

Observational studies have suggested that caffeine may play a role in protecting against Parkinson’s disease, although further research is required to confirm this.

  •  Relief of headaches.

In a study of 301 regular headache sufferers, researchers found that a combination of ibuprofen and caffeine was better than either drug alone in relieving pain.Although a caffeine ‘pill’ was used in this trial, the researchers believed that caffeinated beverages would work just as well. However, they did warn that chronic headache sufferers should avoid caffeine because it might exacerbate symptoms. More work is required in this field before firm conclusions about caffeine and pain relief can be drawn.

Tea Council has published a detailed research report of the health benefits of caffeine in older women here and also another detailed research report that breaks the myth surrounding the health benefits of caffeine here. Tea has been the secret of healthy living of Chinese and the Japanese people. Tea contains flavonoids which protects heart. Tea has got multiple health benefits and all the research on tea has always been concluded on a positive note for tea. Drink tea for healthy living!