Countless studies have debunked various commonly held misconceptions about coffee and caffeine, as well as finding that regular coffee drinkers enjoy a large number of health benefits, particularly as regards helping to reduce one’s chances of suffering cognitive decline and diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s as we age. Here are just two commonly held yet mistaken beliefs about our favourite brew and pick-me-up:
MYTH ONE: “Coffee is dehydrating”
While there is some indication of a mild, short-term diuretic effect of caffeine, this effect is not strong enough to counter-balance the benefits of fluid intake from coffee drinking. Scientific evidence looking at the effects of caffeine on fluid balance does not support a significant diuretic effect of caffeine. Coffee drinking in moderation contributes to our daily fluid intake and does not lead to dehydration, or significant loss of body fluid – so, contrary to the popular myth, you CAN count cups of coffee as part of your water intake for the day!
Caffeine – Clarified
- Caffeine is found naturally in around 60 plant species; coffee beans, cocoa beans, kola nuts, and tea leaves are the best known. It is also added to some soft drinks, foods and medicines.
- The main effect of caffeine in the body is as a mild stimulant of the central nervous system.
- When taken in moderate amounts, caffeine has primarily positive effects on both mental and physical endurance performance. Science also shows that lifelong caffeine consumption may decrease the risk of neuro-degenerative conditions such as age-related cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease.
- Moderate caffeine consumption through coffee does not negatively effect cardiovascular function, bone health or digestion, nor does it lead to dehydration.
- Moderate caffeine consumption is defined as around 400 mg from all sources daily, and corresponds typically to 5 standard sized cups of coffee per day.
- Caffeine is not a drug of dependence. Brain mapping technology indicates that caffeine is not linked to the brain circuit of dependence. This is supported by the fact that people do not develop a tolerance to the stimulant effects of caffeine. This happens with addictive substances, where more and more of the substance is required to achieve the same effect.
- Sudden caffeine withdrawal following prolonged daily use can however cause short-lived symptoms in some people who are particularly sensitive to its effects, such as headache and nausea. These symptoms can be avoided altogether by decreasing more gradually.
MYTH TWO: “Coffee can be addictive”
While caffeine in coffee is a mild central nervous system stimulant, recent scientific studies using brain scans suggest that moderate coffee drinkers do NOT develop a physical dependence to caffeine. Some studies suggest that removing caffeine from the diet suddenly may lead to mild, temporary withdrawal symptoms, like headache, in some individuals. These symptoms can be avoided by a gradual reduction of caffeine intake from the diet over time. It is likely that people continue to drink coffee because they enjoy its taste and aroma, and recognise it as a behavioural stimulant; and not because of any addictive qualities of caffeine.