Is caffeine helping or harming college students?

Hayley Simonson, Reporter

College is an institution that demands hard work, dedication, and lots of brainpower. To make it through, we often sacrifice our sanity. Much more than that, our sleep schedule. A student’s intake of coffee and other forms of caffeine, like tea for example, tend to increase greatly once a student enters their first college environment. These forms of caffeine help our stamina but are they helping or harming our health? 

There are a lot of observational studies that suggest coffee has beneficial effects on our health. These studies go as far as suggesting that those who consume 4 cups of coffee a day may even live longer. 

Dr. Lauri Wright is an associate professor in nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Florida with an expertise in areas such as food insecurity, HIV disease, program outcomes research, and international nutrition. Dr. Wright said that much of observational correlational research is flawed and a subject we go back and forth on when it comes to accuracy in studies attached to cause and effect. There are many demographic and scientific variables that often don’t justify accurate generalizations for the majority of the population.

However, Dr. Wright suggests that there are health benefits to drinking coffee that have been proven to be accurate when staying within the moderate intake of consumption. The moderate intake of consumption is not exceeding 400mg a day. This equals about 4 cups of coffee a day. She said that we have seen slight reductions in pancreatic, gallbladder and liver disease. Coffee consumption has aided healthy motility in the GI tract and some research suggests it may benefit athletic performance. Dr. Wright said that there needs to be an increase in stronger research designs, but that we don’t see coffee as a huge health threat as much as we used to in the past. 

It is important to define “healthy coffee” before continuing. Healthy coffee is coffee in its original form, a brewed, black cup of coffee.

“Most people don’t just drink coffee. It’s these coffee drinks that are infused with a lot of sugar and a lot of saturated fat. We know that sugar and saturated fat cause separate health issues,” said Dr. Wright. “But if we go back to coffee itself, without all the additives, the research has certainly moved away from the harm that we once thought was associated with coffee and caffeine.”

Dr. Wright recommends that for a daily, healthy cup of coffee, avoid excess sugar and cream that might tarnish all of the health benefits. She suggests trying healthier cream replacements like skinny soy creamers, or low fat milks. She said to consider less of the sugary additives and try to stay with the pure form as much as you can.

Dr. Wright consistently emphasizes coffee in moderation and staying within the daily recommendations to avoid a dangerous, dependent nature on the addictive components of caffeine. For some people, it’s a little too late and they may already be experiencing withdrawal headaches. Wright worries about college students who pick up the habit once they get to college and don’t keep track of their intake. This can be dangerous for some people who may start to experience heart arrhythmia or heart palpitations due to excess of the stimulant. If you have an underlying heart condition or are predisposed to any heart problems, you will want to carefully monitor your intake of caffeine. 

Dr. Wright has an expertise in international nutrition. She hasn’t seen much research comparing drinking habits of coffee from country to country. However, she noted that a lot of cultures, unlike the United States, stick to the original method of drinking just plain, old coffee without the additives.

“Portions internationally are so much smaller than Americans. No one just gets a cup of coffee anymore. It’s always these large sizes. Internationally, they don’t have these excessive portions and they don’t have a lot of the added sugars and fats,” said Dr. Wright.

We naturally tend to see better health results in cultures leaving the additives out and who monitor their portions at a healthy and reasonable level.

On the flipside, coffee is not for everyone and a lot of students like to stick to tea to get their caffeine intake. A cup of tea contains less caffeine than a cup of coffee so you can drink more of it. Green teas also have many anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular health benefits. Studies have shown that tea might benefit the GI tract and help in the prevention of diabetes because of its anti-inflammatory properties.  

Dr. Wright says that it really comes down to preference when you are picking between the two. 

Overall, consume everything in moderation. If you’re a tired and unenergized college student, don’t be afraid to get your caffeine in. It will energize you and it may have some long-term benefits to your health. But don’t go crazy and try to leave the sugar out.  


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