If you're reading this, you're probably pretty familiar with popular caffeinated beverage known as coffee. In fact, you may be sipping on a cup of it right now!

Approximately 1.6 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day, and while people in Finland are actually the world's biggest consumers of coffee, we Americans are pretty big coffee lovers ourselves.

80 percent of Americans take some form of caffeine every day, and 65 percent of American adults drink coffee, meaning that coffee accounts for about 75 percent of our overall caffeine intake. A full 68 percent of American coffee drinkers also admitted to being hooked on it!

Meanwhile, 75 percent of Australians consume at least one cup of coffee a day, with 28 percent of those consuming three or more cups per day. One in four Australians also claim they cannot get through the day without coffee, and 88 percent admit to drinking it at least occasionally.

The average amount of coffee each American coffee drinker consumes per day is 300 mg, which amounts to between two and four cups. The thing that makes it confusing is that the caffeine content of coffee can vary greatly with the kind of coffee it is and how it is prepared. For example, a Grande cup of Starbucks coffee can contain over twice as much caffeine as a slightly smaller cup of homemade instant!

The best known effect of coffee is its psychoactive effect, colloquially referred to as its "buzz." Caffeine achieves this affect by stimulating our central nervous system, and studies have shown that even a 75 mg dose led to measurably increased attention and alertness. Higher doses also seemed to improve speed reasoning and memory.

These effects peak at about 30-45 minutes after ingestion, but some caffeine may remain in your system for up to 10 hours. Other studies seem to indicate that this memory enhancement can persist for up to 24 hours after coffee is consumed.

Even better, regularly consuming coffee may keep your brain healthier in the long run. Consuming about 3 cups of coffee a day seemed to reduce older adults' risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, while a slightly higher dose equivalent to 5 cups a day actually seemed to reduce Alzheimer's symptoms in mice!

Drinking coffee also seemed to lead to a lower risk of other brain diseases like Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis as well as of mental conditions like depression, ultimately lowering suicide risk. Also, though many of these studies do not distinguish between caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, even decaf coffee seems to be linked to increased brain energy metabolism!

However, coffee's health benefits go far beyond the brain. For one thing, it can improve your athletic performance by between two and sixteen percent, and it may lead to a reduction as great as fifteen percent in your overall risk of death.

Regular coffee consumption also seems to reduce one's chances of developing stroke or heart disease. Some experts theorize that this may be because it helps keep blood vessels flexible and healthy by encouraging them to dilate, thus increasing blood flow, which is also why caffeine is an effective treatment for certain types of headaches.

The connection may also be because coffee also seems to reduce one's risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is itself is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. One recent study suggests that this could be due to coffee's high concentration of a compound called cafestol that seems to have special antidiabetic properties. Coffee also contains the minerals magnesium and chromium, which themselves can help regulate insulin.

Coffee is also incredibly rich in antioxidants, chemicals that fight the dangerous free radicals that play a role in the development of a wide variety of diseases. Perhaps this is why coffee has also been associated with reduced risks of liver cirrhosis, some eye diseases, and even certain cancers, particularly those that seem to be associated with obesity or excess estrogen.

Specifically, coffee has been linked to a reduced risk of mouth and throat cancer, liver cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, and endometrial cancer.

Coffee's health benefits may also extend to your weight loss. Caffeine has been shown to boost your metabolic rate by as much as 29 percent and to specifically facilitate fat-burning.

By making you feel more energetic, coffee also may encourage you to move more than you otherwise might, and thus to expend more calories. Some people also find that coffee helps them suppress their appetite, though formal studies on the matter have found somewhat contradictory results.

However, the FDA recommends not consuming more than 400 mg of caffeine per day, and there's plenty of good reasons that they do. Exceeding this amount, which will generally be contained in two or three cups, may lead to insomnia, increased heart rate, anxiety, irritability, or upset stomach. People who are sensitive to coffee may experience these symptoms after indulging in a much smaller amount, so there's no reason to drink it if you do.

It's also possible to become physically dependent on coffee, in which case you might experience withdrawal symptoms like headache, fatigue, drowsiness, depression, irritability, concentration difficulties, nausea, and vomiting when you stop drinking it. The good news is that these symptoms tend to be relatively mild and will usually go away after a day or so.

You should make sure to get off your coffee-drinking over with far before the end of the day, since coffee has been shown to reduce total sleep time even when taken as many as 6 hours before bed. You should also avoid using coffee as a substitute for sleep, since sleep deprivation has plenty of health risks whether coffee is masking the symptoms or not.

Another no-go is mixing coffee with alcohol. Though the caffeine might make you feel more sober, it won't actually sober you up. This could lead you to presume that you are aware enough to drive or engage in other dangerous behaviors when you are actually still intoxicated. If you aren't fully aware of how drunk you are, you may also continue to drink beyond the point at which you should stop, which could, in extreme cases, lead to alcohol poisoning.

Additionally, while a small or moderate amount of caffeine can increase gut motility and combat constipation, larger amounts can lead to gastric reflux, bloating, and loose stools. Caffeine also does seem to be linked to an increased risk of urinary incontinence and can trigger migraines and chronic headaches in some people.

Coffee and other caffeine containing beverages can raise blood pressure, especially in people who don't usually drink it, and thus may be dangerous to people with preexisting blood pressure or heart problems or who are also on other stimulants.

Coffee should be avoided be people with gout, in whom it can trigger an attack, and those who are pregnant or trying to conceive. Caffeine intake can negatively affect fertility by impairing muscular activity in the Fallopian tubes, and has been linked with low birth weight and increased gestational length if consumed in excess during pregnancy.

While official recommendations indicate that less that 200 mg of caffeine per day is probably safe to consume while pregnant, one mouse study showed that even small doses of caffeine consumed by pregnant mothers seemed to affect the heart of their offspring.

Additionally, while a little caffeine seems to be fine while breastfeeding, large amounts could pass from a mother's milk to a baby's bloodstream. Experts also recommend that children consume either very limited quantities of caffeine or none at all, since we aren't yet sure how caffeine affects their developing brains.

Coffee can also reduce the absorption of certain medications and certain vitamins and minerals, most notably iron and calcium. So, it may be a good idea to avoid having caffeine too close to the time you eat your meals or take any meds or supplements. You may also want to compensate with extra intake if you're a heavy coffee drinker.

Finally, though we tend to forget this because coffee has become so socially acceptable, caffeine is actually a drug, which means there is a such thing as a caffeine overdose. This is relatively rare, and usually involves caffeine powder, pills, or dangerously high-powered energy drinks rather than good old coffee.

However, pure caffeine, which contains in a single teaspoon the amount of caffeine one would get in 28 cups of coffee, has been associated with at least two deaths. In rare cases, caffeine overdose can also lead to rhabdomyolysis, a dangerous condition that occurs when a breakdown of muscle tissue damages the kidneys.

Though coffee is the quintessential caffeine source, caffeine is also found in tea, soft drinks (particularly energy drinks), and chocolate. It is also found in some prescription and over-the-counter drugs, such as cold, allergy and pain medications. Lately, caffeine infused gum and a few other more unusual caffeine sources are beginning to hit the market, such as caffeine-infused oatmeal, waffles, and even beef jerky.

If you dislike the taste of coffee or are sensitive to the effects of caffeine but still want to get a little buzz on now and again, most kinds of tea have about half as much caffeine as coffee and plenty of their own health and metabolism benefits.

Finally, don't forget that if you're dumping copious amounts of sugar or milk into your coffee, you're basically canceling out all of its potential health benefits and almost certainly getting in the way of your weight loss goals. Black is always best, but if you have to use creamer, use skim, almond, or coconut milk rather than full fat, and chose a healthy artificial sweetener like stevia rather than disastrous sugar.

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