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Too much coffee? We ask a GP

Too much coffee? We ask a GP

From that morning cup of coffee before the school run or double espresso before that important meeting, to the much loved after-dinner pick-me-up... It's clear that, as we struggle to cope with the demands of daily life, our caffeine levels have shot through the roof.

Indeed many of us could be unknowingly addicted to caffeine. In a recent survey, more than a third confessed that they had to start their day with a cup of coffee. And with caffeine also found in tea, chocolate and fizzy drinks, our recommended daily allowance can be easily overwhelmed without so much as a cappuccino.

To help you manage your coffee intake we asked Dr Sally Norton, a UK health expert and founder of www.vavistalife.com, and GP Dr BLA BLA from CP Medical Clinic on Sloane Avenue to give us the low down on the pros and cons of coffee consumption.


PROS

1. It can improve sports performance
Drinking a caffeinated drink before sport is associated with improved endurance and other sporting measures. It seems that caffeine increases heart rate but reduces the pain felt during exertion, encouraging us to push it that bit further.

2. It can increase mental alertness
Studies performed on people in stressful conditions showed improved concentration, learning and reaction time after 200mg caffeine. In addition, there is some evidence that it can delay onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

3. It may reduce the risk of some diseases
Drinking coffee, though apparently of both caffeinated and decaffeinated types, is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. It is also associated with a reduced risk of some types of cancer. Coffee adds high levels of antioxidants to our diet (up to to 64% in one study). Antioxidants protect us against various diseases, which may explain some of these benefits. 

4. It may protect the liver
Fatty liver disease is becoming an increasing problem due to the combination of alcohol and obesity. Excess fat in the liver can cause inflammation and lead to cirrhosis. Some studies show that caffeine intake may be associated with a lower risk of fatty liver. 

5. Caffeine cheers us up
Even just the smell of coffee can make us feel better and drinking it too is related to lower rates of depression. Not to mention the social element of relaxing with friends over a cuppa.

CONS

1. It can be bad for your heart
Some studies show it can reduce blood flow in your coronary arteries when you need it most – during exercise – as well as cause palpitations or irregular heartbeat and may possibly increase your blood pressure over time.

2. It disturbs your sleep
People who drink more than three cups of coffee per day are scientifically proven to have less than restful sleep. One study showed a difference of 79 minutes sleep between drinkers of caffeinated vs decaffeinated drinks. If you struggle to get to sleep then caffeine should definitely be a no-go. It takes about 5 hours to clear from our system – so drinking coffee after lunch-time is worth avoiding. 

3. It is often linked with sugar
Even if we don’t add sugar to our coffee, we are often tempted to accompany it with a biscuit, cake or muffin – particularly when encouraged to do so by high street chains. In addition there can be 11 teaspoons of sugar in some varieties of coffee – our total recommended daily intake. The calorie count of these specialist coffees can be huge too so not good if you are watching your weight.

4. It’s bad for your mood
Caffeine increases catecholamines such as adrenaline – known as the “fight or flight” hormone. No surprise then that caffeine can make you tense and jittery in high quantities.

5. It can impact your fertility
Drinking more than five cups of coffee a day – the equivalent of about 500mg of caffeine – is linked with lower fertility. If you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s certainly worth cutting down, and once you are pregnant you’ll want to quit caffeine altogether or certainly cut back to less than 200mg per day as it may increase the risk of birth defects or reduce fetal growth.

'The key, as always, is moderation. Rather than altogether abstaining from coffee, make sure you are knowingly consuming it in moderation. Staying well away from fizzy drinks which also contain unhealthy additives such as aspartame.'
GP at Chelsea Pharmacy Medical Clinic, Sloane Avenue.

Here's an easy guide to the levels of caffeine in our favourite beverages.

Type                                  Caffeine (average)

Espresso                            40-75mg/oz

Generic brewed coffee   19mg/oz

Generic instant coffee   12mg/oz

Red Bull                            9mg/oz

Coffee ice cream             7.5mg/oz

Black tea                          5mg/oz

Chocolate (milk)             4mg/oz

Diet Coke                        4mg/oz

Coke                                 3mg/oz

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