The long-term effects of caffeine 

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Regarding health and wellness, a commonly asked question is: “Does caffeine have negative long-term health effects on individuals?” The short answer is maybe, but not in the ways most people think.  

First, it helps to consider what caffeine is and how it works. According to the US Institute of Medicine, caffeine, a plant alkaloid usually processed into a bitter white powder, is “the most widely used central nervous system (CNS) stimulant in the world.” As many people have come to appreciate, caffeine offers a mild CNS stimulation leading to increased wakefulness, more sustained intellectual activity and increased reaction speed, the Institute of Medicine reports.  

These benefits often make caffeine extremely appealing to sleep-deprived students and busy individuals with intellectually-demanding lifestyles.  

Caffeine works quickly. In humans, it is nearly completely absorbed into the body “within 45 minutes of ingestion,” according to the Institute of Medicine. Following its ingestion, caffeine is absorbed into the blood through the gastrointestinal tract, where it is circulated throughout body water and then metabolized by the kidneys into various metabolites.  

Among these metabolites is paraxanthine, which inhibits adenosine receptors in the brain and then affects the release of neurotransmitters “like norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, glutamate, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and perhaps neuropeptides” into the body, the Institute of Medicine explained. 

These neurotransmitters, more commonly referred to as the body’s feel-good hormones, are what cause caffeine’s sought-after, energizing effects on the mind and body.  

When asked about her thoughts regarding the long-term effects of caffeine on the human body, Kayla Jacobson, UVU’s on-campus dietician, explained, “Caffeine is not a nutrient—it doesn’t give your body nutrition like other things would, but it is an ingredient. So, I think that other than reaching the upper limit of 400 mg that could be damaging, you want to look at what else you are consuming with your caffeine.”  

Jacobson’s main point was that although caffeine in moderation is not necessarily bad, poor dietary imbalances that often occur with regular caffeine intake can negatively affect individuals’ health and wellness.  

One example Jacobson provided was a morning cup of coffee. “There is nothing necessarily wrong with coffee, but are you drinking too much? Or what’s in your coffee? Are you having a lot of creamers, a lot of sugar — which, again, isn’t … inherently bad — but could [they] be replacing something else?” Jacobson emphasized that although such ingredients were not bad, the act of replacing nutrition-dense meals with them could cause problems.  

Can caffeine cause long-term health effects on individuals’ health and wellness? If adults consistently drink more than the recommended daily amount of 400 mg, neglect other nutritional foods on the daily, or forsake daily health habits such as striving to get enough sleep whenever possible, it may be causing long-term effects. Otherwise, for most individuals, probably not. However, according to the Mayo Clinic and Jacobson, caffeine should be avoided for children and should be limited to 100 mg for teenagers. 

Please note that all individuals process caffeine differently, and that for some, adverse effects may present themselves, Jacobson explained. If an increase in tiredness is noticed after increased caffeine intake, try reducing caffeine ingestion or consulting with a dietician or doctor. Furthermore, according to the Institute of Medicine, consistent caffeine consumption can lead to minor withdrawal symptoms and decreased potency, but “does not have a convincing profile as an addictive drug.”