Even though coffee actually comes with a dose of vitamins and anti-oxidants, what about that racing heart and increased levels of anxiety? Is caffeine worth the trouble? This is a tough one, and in the end, a decision better based on whether you feel better with a cup of coffee or worse. Strangely there is very little clinical evidence that caffeine increases anxiety or stress. Even so, common sense would dictate that if you’re drinking something making you feel jittery, then it shouldn’t be doing your anxiety or stress levels any good, right?
Well, this appears to be mostly an assumption, and the science doesn’t seem to agree with it. Now I’m not writing this to be some sort of excited proponent of caffeine, but this is what all those studies and assessments have come up with so far (for those remaining within the recommended guidelines of caffeine consumption).
1. Studies comparing anxiety scores (levels of perceived anxiety) between those consuming caffeine and those who haven’t shows no differences in anxiety levels.
2. Caffeine creates a sense of ‘Well Being’, with some studies showing the chemical can reduce mild depression and calm the mind. Whether this is caffeine ‘the wonder drug’, or just the study participants taking five minutes to relax with a cup of coffee hasn’t been properly determined.
3. Caffeine improves memory and cognition. People tend to become more anxious when they can’t remember or work something out, so if caffeine improves their mental performance it may reduce their stress.
4. The actual routine of making a cup of coffee every morning or at specific times during the day may reduce anxiety – the actual ‘knowing’ a coffee break is coming during a time of stress.
All right, so if coffee doesn’t increase your stress levels, what about you heart health? The Mayo Clinic reports the most recent research suggests there is no connection between coronary heart disease and coffee. However this has not always been the case, the earliest studies of caffeine and heart health did find a connection. Why the change? Well, it appears that most coffee drinkers in the past were also smoking, a risk behaviour that wasn’t taken account of at the time.
Heart rhythm has been another hot issue for caffeine, and while there’s no doubt it increases heart rate, there are mixed findings for irregular heartbeats. There is some evidence that caffeine can trigger mild arrhythmia, particularly Lone Atrial Fibrillation, yet ‘The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition’ published the findings of a 48,000 person Danish study that could find no association between atrial fibrillation and caffeine.
And then there’s blood pressure, this appears to the real dark side of caffeine. If you already have high blood pressure, caffeine can be particularly bad news. A study reported by the American Heart Association found that 89% of a study group diagnosed with high blood pressure entered a hypertensive state for more than sixty minutes when exposed to caffeine. Obviously the effects of a single cup of coffee aren’t prolonged, but if you drink coffee all day long, expect your blood pressure to be higher, and perhaps even dangerously higher.
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