Stimulating Controversy: the Jury's Still Out On Caffeine


What are we going to do with caffeine?

The short, pragmatic answer is that we’re going to keep ingesting it, without a doubt. It’s our favourite legal central nervous system stimulant. Caffeine is present in over 60 naturally-occurring forms of food and drink, from munchable kola nuts – now more famous as an additive for a certain soft drink – to the indispensable, irresistible beans of cocoa and coffee. (Interesting aside: coffee production sparked off the Fair Trade industry.) It’s been estimated that worldwide per-capita consumption of caffeine is around 70mg a day – that’s the same as everyone on this planet starting the morning with a small cup of java.

That we’re caffeine addicts is old news – what we need to know are the consequences. Surely a substance Generally Recognized As Safe by the FDA in 1958 is”¦safe. Right?

Caffeine stays in your bloodstream for 3-4 hours. Whilst there, it appears to indirectly stimulate the neurotransmitter dopamine, which accounts for elevated feelings of alertness and pleasure. But it affects hand-eye coordination, making you jittery (and no, it doesn’t actually cure a hangover – stick with water). However, caffeine in moderation has been linked to increased stamina. But it can upset sleep patterns and so impair long-term physical performance. And so on.

Two new studies published this week suggest caffeine continues to be the two-sided coin we know and love. On the one hand, it appears to lower the risk of ovarian cancer. On the other, as little as one and a half cups of coffee a day appears to double the risk of a miscarriage.

Caffeine’s here to stay – so we’d better stay alert. As with so many of the pleasurable drinks and foods we love, moderation is generally proved to be the best course.

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.