Caring about caffeine

By Mina Radman • Published: July 26th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

That daily cup of Joe may do more than keep you awake.

Scientists in New Jersey found that the combination of caffeine and exercise lessened the risk of skin cancer in mice and may do the same in humans. This finding is important as we reach the peak of the summer months, when the sun’s dangerous U-V rays dig into our skin.

If caffeine could help protect you from cancer, what other good can it do? Coffee, Americans’ ultimate source of caffeine, has been repeatedly linked to lowering the risk of Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Studies have shown that coffee drinkers also have fewer cases of cancer, heart rhythm problems and strokes.

Why do we get such benefits from coffee? Coffee contains antioxidants, which help protect against tissue damage, and minerals such as magnesium and chromium that control blood sugar. Scientists aren’t entirely sure how caffeine lessens the risk of Parkinson’s disease or dementia, but they know the link between the two is definitely there.

Aside from potentially helping protect against skin cancer, pairing up caffeine with exercise can help decrease body fat. A study conducted at the University of Guelph (Gwelf) in Canada found that those who drank a caffeinated beverage, such as coffee, had more intense and effective workouts than those who didn’t. They also lost more body fat.

While caffeine has benefits, too much of a good thing isn’t actually that good for you, either. It’s a mild diuretic and can have strong withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches. It can also worsen stomach ulcers or increase acid reflux. And, while a cup of black coffee is a low-calorie drink, spicing it up with half-and-half and sugar can increase your waistline.

So drink that cup of coffee, but don’t overdo it. And regardless of caffeine’s potential sun-protective benefits, still slather on the sunscreen when you head outside.