Does caffeine actually boost performance?

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Does caffeine actually boost performance? image

Raise your hand if you get the recommended eight hours of sleep every night. For most of us, we’re feeling pretty fortunate if we get around six. Since we’re constantly operating on not-enough, many of us use coffee or other caffeinated beverages to help keep us awake and alert. How healthy is it for us, however, to be constantly feeding ourselves a diet of Red Bull and Mountain Dew?

The most popular caffeinated drink – or, at least the one I personally rely on the most – is coffee. As I am an avid coffee drinker, I, of course, defend the benefits of this miracle drink (and the excessive amounts of creamer I put into it), but how good for us is coffee? And does it actually help us improve our performance at work?

Here’s what we know. Coffee helps fight depression; improves alertness and focus; and is good for your health. According to researchers at Harvard School of Public Health, drinking two cups of coffee on a daily basis reduces the risk of suicide by 50 percent. This happens because caffeine boosts the production of serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline – all of which are mood elevators.

Caffeine has been proven to increase alertness and focus, with a related bonus of decreasing the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. For non-habitual coffee drinkers, it only takes 200mg of caffeine to improve visual attention; enhance language processing; and improve the rate of detecting errors. Daily coffee drinkers can get the same benefits at 400mg of caffeine.

The biggest benefit of caffeine, though, are those associated with our physical health. Coffee is said to reduce the risk of premature death; decrease the risk of developing prostate cancer by 20 percent and endometrial cancer by 25 percent; reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease by 25 percent; and is associated with lowering the risk of stroke.

So coffee can be considered a great addition to a healthy diet that has the added benefit of boosting our physical performance and mental clarity. But caffeine also has some negative side effects. Heavy coffee drinkers may have an issue with iron and magnesium absorption. The issue with this, and problematic mineral absorption in general, is that minerals are vital to keeping us alive and feeling well. If we aren’t getting enough minerals – or if our bodies cannot properly absorb them – then we will experience fatigue; get sicker more often; and may develop long-term illnesses.

And although coffee elevates moods and slashes the risk of suicide by 50 percent, doctors don’t recommend adults dealing with depression increase caffeine consumption. Why? Because caffeine also causes nervousness, trouble sleeping and rapid heartbeats (among other side effects); all of those things can exacerbate depression and anxiety.

So what’s the happy medium? After all, pretty much everything in life is good in moderation. Studies show that keeping the coffee consumption between one and six eight ounce cups per day is where you will see the maximum health and performance benefits. An added bonus here is that this same amount of coffee can aide in weight loss or maintenance. But just a friendly reminder: caffeine in moderation is extremely beneficial, but be careful of sugary drinks that are easily consumed in bulk. That Mountain Dew habit you’ve picked up is doing more harm than good, so stick with black coffee to reap the biggest benefits of your caffeine fix.

Sharon Steed photo

Sharon is an empathy consulting, public speaker and writer. She has over a decade of experience creating and managing content for businesses. A lifelong stutterer, she utilizes her experiences with her speech along with her background in marketing to help companies communicate more effectively both internally and with their target audience. She writes and speaks about improving communication through empathy. She lives in Pittsburgh.

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