Once considered harmful, caffeine has recently been given a face-lift of sorts thanks to a number of scientific studies into its potential benefits and supposed bad qualities. Here’s a summary:

Pros

The Famous Boost Caffeine can sharpen your short-term memory, trick you into feeling less tired, and trigger a mild, sometimes useful stress. In recent studies of some longtime coffee drinkers, it has been shown that this stress was not found to be linked to an increased risk of hypertension. And athletes sometimes use caffeine for a temporary edge: caffeine may blunt the pain of sore muscles.

Disease Prevention Caffeine may be linked to fewer instances of Parkinson’s disease among coffee drinkers, as well as a reduced risk of liver cancer, cirrhosis, gallstones, colon cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Health experts know the antioxidants and chlorogenic acid in coffee are beneficial to the human body; the caffeine is increasingly seen as helpful, too.

Low-Guilt Options Coffee and tea have very low or no calories, cholesterol, fat, sodium, and carbs. Of course, sugar changes that. If you’ve never been a fan of black coffee before, now might be the time to give it another chance, though a little milk may be good for your bones. Sodas are another story. Unlike in tea and coffee, the caffeine in soda is not natural, and few sodas contain antioxidants.

Brain Fitness According to studies of mice given 6 to 8 cups of coffee a day at Cornell University and Turku University in Finland, caffeine may prevent damage to the nervous system. Other studies have linked coffee to decreased incidences of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Additionally, the Cornell-Turku study shows that caffeine may prevent MS from developing in mice, suggesting that more research should be done on how caffeine and the nervous system interact in humans.

Cons

Mild Addiction When caffeine lovers don’t receive enough of what their bodies are used to, they can develop feelings of irritability, anxiety, or fatigue. And some caffeinated foods aren’t even labeled as such; one cup of coffee-flavored yogurt can have the same caffeine as a full cup of coffee or have no caffeine at all. Knowledge of what you’re consuming and moderation in consumption are keys to good health.

Sleeplessness Drinking one or two cups of coffee before 4 pm generally shouldn’t ruin a good night’s sleep. But caffeine intake throughout the day can lower the number of minutes you sleep at night, even if you don’t remember waking. Caffeine seems to affect individuals’ sleep patterns in various ways. Some coffee aficionados may crash once they stop consuming caffeine; others complain of insomnia.

Not Useful For Weight Loss Although caffeine perks you up and gives you energy, a wide-ranging, long-term study has found that it doesn’t seem to add up: some people even gain weight as they increase caffeine use.

Coffee Myths

Caffeine Dehydrates You It may surprise you, but caffeinated liquids act as diuretics only if they contain more than 575 mg of caffeine. Below that number, caffeine doesn’t negatively affect hydration.

Caffeine Increases Your Risk of Heart Disease At least for regular coffee drinkers with no preexisting heart conditions, caffeine appears not to increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, or arrhythmia.

Bone Loss? Studies have shown only a small reduction in calcium absorption due to caffeine consumption. Doctors do sometimes advise those at risk for osteoporosis to avoid caffeine, but for many of us, drinking two tablespoons of milk per day can add back any calcium lost to caffeine.

Another Culprit? Studies indicate possible links between bone loss and the consumption of sodas, which contain phosphoric and carbonic acids. Soda has been described as “osteoporosis in a can.” Carbonation upsets the stomach, which then pulls calcium from blood cells; this in turn causes blood cells to pull calcium from the bones to keep a steady supply of the vital nutrient to the brain. Regardless of caffeine’s connection to bone loss, drinking a lot of caffeinated soda is probably not a good idea, especially for women.

So whether coffee or tea, your favorite naturally caffeinated drink’s contributions to your health may sometimes appear contradictory, but will rarely be all bad.

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