Caffeine—the stimulant drug you count on every morning and sometimes all day long to keep you moving and alert. It occurs naturally in the coffee bean and tea leaves, but thanks to science you can find it in everything from soft drinks to supplements as well. Researchers estimate that 90% of Americans consume caffeine in some form every day. So why do so many people count on it? Lots of reasons. From feeling a boost in mood to alertness (and they aren’t imagining it) caffeine is the fuel for many people. But science tells us that it could have some other interesting side effects—including boosting metabolism and controlling fat utilization by the body.
How does caffeine work?
Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system—the master control of all systems of the body. So it only makes sense that when you tell it to work faster, all processes under its control will change speed. That includes your metabolism.
Now don’t get too excited—researchers have said time and again that there’s not a ton of evidence that proves caffeine can be used as a weight loss agent. In fact, when taken in large amounts, caffeine can trigger a variety of negative side effects that range from spikes in blood pressure to nervousness, nausea, and insomnia. So this is in no way a green light to drink all the coffee and soda you want. Not to mention that consuming lots of sugar and fat-laden drinks will pack on the pounds and far outweigh any benefits of caffeine, no matter how small.
How caffeine changes metabolism
When caffeine hits the blood stream, it triggers fat cells to release their stores—breaking down small amounts as an energy source. It also signals for an increase in the hormone epinephrine which performs a similar role by encouraging the release of fat from their home inside cells. Second, caffeine raises your resting metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns calories when you are at rest). Studies show that caffeine can raise your resting rate by 3-11% but only for a brief period of time. Studies went on to show that these numbers faded with age and were more pronounced in younger adults. How your body uses caffeine will be unique. If you want to learn more about your personal caffeine metabolism, consider a genetic nutrition test to learn more about what’s happening deep in your genes. You can use this information (in conjunction with your healthcare provider’s advice) to adjust your intake of caffeine.
Is caffeine a good option for weight loss?
In short, no. The benefits of caffeine are short lived and long term proof that caffeine helps sustain weight loss over time are weak at best. There’s no guaranteed easy way to control your weight outside of a healthy diet and exercise despite what many companies may claim.
Even though much of the United States relies on caffeinated beverages and supplements to get them through the day, remember that your best approach to sustained energy and health is a balanced lifestyle. That may mean reducing the amount of caffeine you take in every day.