10 Pros & Cons of Caffeine

I was absolutely affronted the other day when my husband casually judged my caffeine habit. “It’s not good for you, you know,” he said after I had just one innocent latte.

No, I don’t know that. I’ve heard that caffeine can actually be good for us, and at any rate it’s a better option than muttering angrily under my breath for the first three hours of work every day, right? And I know I read somewhere that coffee protects against cancer, but then again, I’ve also heard that it can increase my risk of osteoporosis.

So, can I justify my caffeine habit? (Not that I couldn’t quit anytime I want.) Or is it really hurting my body as much as it hits my wallet? I decided to find out, and not surprisingly, the answer is more complicated than just “yes” or “no.” Here are the top 10 pros and cons of caffeine:

1. Pro: Coffee May Protect Against Cancer

There’s been a lot of buzz about this in the news with California ruling that coffee needs to carry a cancer warning, but after wading through all the research, it looks like coffee can actually help prevent certain cancers, like oral, throat, uterine, colon, prostate, liver, and breast cancer. And I’m not being biased, both the American Cancer Society and World Health Organization think that coffee may reduce cancer risk.

The bad news? Coffee doesn’t have a monopoly on caffeine, and the stimulant itself is not linked to reduced cancer risk. If you get your caffeine fix from black or green tea you still may be getting an anti-cancer effect, but soda an energy drinks aren’t going to do it for you.

2. Con: Caffeine Can Contribute to Acid Reflux and Heartburn

Caffeine can worsen acid reflux symptoms because it relaxes the sphincter muscle that’s supposed to keep stomach acid safely in your stomach. A relaxed sphincter means stomach acid can bubble up into the esophagus, and coffee and tea are acidic in and of themselves. Decaf has less of an effect, so that may be an option for coffee lovers prone to reflux.

Coffee specifically can also irritate the gastrointestinal tract and contribute to heartburn, but in this case switching to decaf won’t help.

3. Pro: Caffeine Is Good For The Brain (within reason)

Caffeine may protect against cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. A study from the University of Florida found that three to five cups of caffeinated coffee in adults in their 40s and 50s could reduce Alzheimer’s and dementia risk by up to 70 percent. But it’s not clear if the potential benefits are from coffee specifically or caffeine in general, and there has not been a definitive study that caffeine (or coffee) can reduce risk of dementia, so take the results with a grain of salt.

In the short-term, caffeine can definitely increase mental focus and boost your mood. But that much we already knew!

Photo: Adobe Stock/rocketclips

4. Con: Caffeine Is Seriously Addictive

I know what you’re thinking—there’s addiction and then there’s addiction. But caffeine dependence is included as a disorder in the DSM 5, as is caffeine withdrawal. Some caffeine users get so addicted that they can’t quit despite chronic caffeine-related health problems. Ouch.

And when someone does decide to quit, they can face headaches, grumpiness, fatigue, lack of concentration, depressed mood, and anxiety. Reducing caffeine intake gradually should mitigate these side effects.

“NEXT” for the rest of caffeine’s pros and cons (and how much is too much)

Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.
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