By some estimates, nearly three quarters of the United States’ population drinks coffee every day or on a regular basis. The American obsession with coffee isn’t just a love of the familiar flavor, though, because it’s also about the practical effects of one of coffee’s most famous compounds: caffeine. Swinging by Starbucks or grabbing a homemade cup of joe are well-known rituals for millions of people as they wake up to a new day, but not many think about the potential side effects of caffeine. How does it affect us? And, as is often asked by a nation similarly obsessed with body image and looking thin, does caffeine lead to weight gain?
What is Caffeine?
Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant that belongs to a class of compounds called xanthines. Though mainly associated with coffee beans, caffeine is found in other types of plants (like black or green tea) and is also used as an additive for energy drinks and sodas. As a stimulant, caffeine is valued for its ability to alleviate fatigue as well as temporarily increase alertness, energy, and cognitive function. While these effects can be beneficial, caffeine is also considered a drug that can be overused, depending on an individual user’s tolerance.
Caffeine functions as a stimulant to the central nervous system by blocking the action of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and sleepiness in the brain. Throughout the day, adenosine accumulates and leads to the feelings of fatigue that generally precede sleep. But by blocking these neurotransmitters, the caffeine essentially delays the accumulation of adenosine and as a result you feel more awake, alert, and focused. The magnitude of this stimulating effect is naturally dependent on the amount of caffeine consumption.
Most people get the majority of their daily caffeine intake from their favorite coffee drink, with an average 8-ounce cup of coffee containing between 80-100 mg of caffeine. These days, though, there are many more types of coffee than ever before: latte, frappuccino, mocha, or even classic black coffee. Many of these other types of coffee are made with espresso, a method of brewing coffee that results in a stronger stimulating effect. A shot of espresso added to a drink contains about 60-70 mg of caffeine, but it can also be doubled or tripled for added effect.
How Does Caffeine Affect the Body?
Even though there are some cultural and social reasons people frequent coffee shops, its utility as a stimulant is a major part of why it remains so popular. But apart from its impact on fatigue and alertness, caffeine can actually affect the body in other ways as well. Below are some of the other impacts of caffeine on the body:
- Increased heart rate: In addition to blocking adenosine and staving off tiredness, caffeine can also promote the release of other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine that can increase heart rate and blood pressure. This effect can even lead to heart palpitations in those who are susceptible to abnormal heart rhythms.
- Improved mood: Dopamine is another neurotransmitter released as a result of caffeine, and it can lead to an improved mood and a greater motivation to be active and productive.
- Bronchodilation: Caffeine also has a mild bronchodilation effect, which means that it can temporarily open up airways in the lungs. For this reason it can be beneficial for people who have asthma.
- Diuretic: Part of caffeine’s stimulating effect on blood flow is that more blood flows to the kidneys; this also means that it can act as a diuretic and increase the production of urine. This is why people may need to use the bathroom more frequently when drinking coffee.
- Poor sleep: Obviously caffeine is used to prevent feeling sleepy during the day, but that can sometimes backfire and prevent you from sleeping when you want to. This usually occurs if your coffee consumption was later in the day, but it can also happen just from having too much caffeine in your body in general.
- Risk of dependence: Because of caffeine’s impact on the central nervous system and a variety of neurotransmitters, there is some potential for a person to become overly dependent on the substance. It can also lead to a buildup of tolerance where higher amounts of caffeine are needed to achieve the same end. There can even be withdrawal symptoms if you become used to it and then abruptly stop.
It’s worth noting that each individual’s responses to caffeine can be very different. Some people may experience positive effects like increased alertness and improved cognitive performance, while others may be more sensitive to the stimulating effects and experience jitteriness or sleep disturbances. Moderation and mindful consumption are essential to balance the benefits and potential drawbacks of caffeine on the body.
Can Caffeine Lead to Weight Gain?
Another concern that coffee drinkers can sometimes have is whether or not caffeine has any impact on body weight. After all, obesity has been a growing problem for decades in this country, and there is much misinformation online about how various food products affect metabolism. The truth is, though, that there is virtually no evidence that caffeine can directly lead to weight gain. However, there are some indirect ways that caffeine might contribute to weight gain:
- Coffee additives: Even though the caffeine in your coffee might not be an issue, it isn’t the only substance present. Unless you’re getting black coffee when you stop by the coffee shop, the barista is likely to add flavored syrups, coffee creamer, cow milk, almond milk, added sugar, or some type of artificial sweetener. Many of these additives have a consequential number of calories that can make weight gain more likely.
- Delayed hunger: Caffeine does have mild appetite suppressant properties that can lower ghrelin levels and make you feel less hunger in the hours that follow. But when this temporary period of reduced hunger ends, some of the cravings that were previously lessened can come back and lead to higher than normal calorie intake for the day as a whole.
- Sleep problems: Research in recent years has shown a strong connection between poor sleep and weight gain; since too much caffeine can lead to poor sleep, this is another way that caffeine might inadvertently promote weight gain.
The bottom line is that caffeine isn’t likely to lead to weight gain. And, in fact, there are attributes of caffeine that might even help with weight loss goals or with general weight management. For instance, caffeine does seem to temporarily increase a person’s metabolic rate. Also, caffeine has long been a component of diet pills and weight loss supplements due to its ability to suppress appetite. And even though this wouldn’t affect fat burning, the diuretic properties of caffeine may decrease water weight.
True You Weight Loss Solutions
If you’re a coffee-lover trying to lose weight, you’ll be glad to know that you don’t need to give it up. Yet sustainable weight loss requires more than giving up tasty foods or putting yourself through a punishing exercise regimen. At True You Weight Loss, we offer state-of-the-art endobariatric procedures that are designed to help you lose weight over the long term. If you’d like to learn more about ESG, a gastric balloon, or weight loss medication, please contact us today to request a consultation. Freedom is waiting!