Mountain View Voice

- June 13, 2008

The buzz on caffeine

by Dr. Melissa Stenberg

Recently, you may have picked up the newspaper or turned on the TV news to see yet another report about caffeine. The debate is over whether or not caffeine, particularly coffee, is good or bad for you. You'll find "experts" on both extremes of the caffeine issue. Who do you believe?

Although whether or not you should avoid caffeine really depends on your individual medical history and how much caffeine you consume, it's a good idea to know the facts beyond the sensational headlines. Here are answers to your questions about all things caffeinated.

Q: I've heard reports on the news recently that caffeine can increase the chance of miscarriage? Is this true?

A: A study concluded that the risk for miscarriage doubles for expectant moms who consume more than 200 milligrams of caffeine every day — about two regular cups of coffee. But some doctors are skeptical of the caffeine-miscarriage link. Until these results are confirmed, mothers-to-be are urged to keep their daily caffeine consumption to less than 200 mg.

Q: Does caffeine help you lose weight?

A: Caffeine is a stimulant and an appetite suppressant, which is why many nonprescription "weight-loss" pills include it. Caffeine also increases urination and can have a laxative effect, which means the scale may show a temporary weight loss. Still, there is no reliable data proving that caffeine use leads to significant long-term weight loss.

Q: Is caffeine addictive?

A: Many studies suggest that caffeine causes physical dependence. Regular caffeine users who skip a "dose" may suffer withdrawal symptoms, such as headache, anxiety, fatigue, depression and muscle pain. These symptoms typically disappear within 48 hours of quitting caffeine.

Q: I've given up coffee and replaced my morning cup of joe with an energy drink. This is healthy, right?

A: Energy drinks are incredibly popular, but most people aren't aware that the "energy" in these drinks comes from large doses of caffeine. If you're looking for a caffeine-free alternative to your daily cup of coffee, try herbal teas or hot water with a slice of lemon.

Q: Does caffeine increase blood pressure?

A: Caffeinated drinks raise blood pressure slightly by increasing levels of stress hormones. But long-term studies on coffee drinkers found that this effect declines over time, as most people develop a tolerance to caffeine. Scientists conclude that caffeine users are not more likely to develop long-term high blood pressure.

Q: Can drinking caffeinated coffee raise my cholesterol?

A: Two substances in caffeinated coffee — kahweol and cafestol — may raise cholesterol levels. Fortunately, paper filters take out these substances. That means you needn't worry if you drink filtered coffee. But that isn't true if you enjoy coffee made with a French press, cappuccinos, lattes or other unfiltered espresso-based drinks.

Q: Can caffeine lead to osteoporosis?

A: Because caffeine increases urination, this leads to a loss of calcium, especially in older women past menopause. But significant calcium loss — and the risk for osteoporosis — is only likely if you do not get enough calcium in your diet. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you are unsure how much calcium you need.

Melissa E. Stenberg, M.D., is a family medicine physician at the Los Altos Center of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

Comments

Posted by dr. meow, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 12, 2010 at 11:19 am

Interesting article! Thanks for the info Dr. Stenberg.


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