& Alan Titchenal Saturday, March 07, 2009
In moderation, caffeine found to aid health
Question: How safe is caffeine?
Answer: Caffeine is often said to be the most commonly consumed drug in the world. Due to such widespread use, a great deal of research has been conducted to find possible adverse effects.
Fortunately for coffee and tea lovers, large studies on adults have identified several positive health effects of these caffeine sources. For example, moderate coffee consumption appears to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as Parkinson's, liver and gallstone diseases. Although these types of studies can't claim cause and effect, they do reduce concerns about major harmful effects.
Caffeine is a stimulant that enhances alertness and mood. Like any drug, however, "it's the dose that makes the poison." Too much caffeine can boost blood pressure in some people and can clash with some prescription drugs.
Q: What is "moderate" consumption?
A: For adults, researchers suggest that daily caffeine intake not exceed 400 milligrams. That is the amount typically found in four 6- to 8-ounce cups of coffee, depending on how strong the coffee is made.
Q: What level is safe during pregnancy?
A: There has been much debate about this. Research indicates that too much caffeine consumed during pregnancy might slightly increase risks of spontaneous abortion, lower birth weight and early delivery. Consequently, the typical recommendation before conception and during pregnancy is that caffeine intake not exceed 300 milligrams per day.
It is interesting that some coffee-lovers experience a smell and taste aversion to coffee shortly after conception.
Q: What are the major sources of caffeine?
A: Coffee, the caffeine king, varies from 60 to 180 milligrams per 8-ounce cup, depending on brew strength. Black and green tea range from 20 to 90 milligrams per cup, and hot cocoa ranges from 3 to 30 milligrams per cup.
Sodas with added caffeine typically contain 30 to 60 milligrams per 12-ounce can. The so-called energy drinks vary, with some containing as much as 400 milligrams per drink. If an energy drink does not indicate how much caffeine it contains, look for caffeine-containing ingredients such as guarana, mate and kola nut.
Chocolate is a caffeine lightweight. Milk chocolate has about 5 milligrams and dark chocolate has about 20 milligrams per ounce.
Q: What's the best way to reduce caffeine intake?
A: Slowly. Many people experience withdrawal effects such as headaches from abruptly eliminating caffeine. To avoid this, it is best to gradually decrease consumption over a week or two.
Joannie Dobbs, PhD, CNS and Alan Titchenal, PhD, CNS
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa.
Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Service
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