Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in the world, and although previous research has shown it can perk up your cognitive function — improving reaction time, for example — other studies have suggested there may be ample advantages to cutting back, or even going caffeine-free altogether.
Here are some of the top benefits you may enjoy if you decide to kick caffeine.
1. More Sustained Energy Through the Day
When you think of a pick-me-up, does the logo of your favorite coffee place loom large in your mind? While caffeine does provide a temporary surge — it's a stimulant, after all — most people also experience a subsequent plunge as well, according to Pam Nisevich Bede, RD, who works for Abbott in Abbott Park, Illinois.
"It's only a temporary effect on your brain that makes you feel less tired," she says. "Relying on caffeine to power through your day can drive an energy plummet hours later."
A big part of that process, says Erin Kenney, RD, of Boston, comes from the way the substance triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that kick off your fight-or-flight response. They give you that distinctive lift and buzz, but when they wear off, it can be jarring.
2. Better Absorption of Micronutrients
Caffeine can reduce absorption of some vitamins and minerals from food, says Nicole Avena, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City, and researcher on diet and nutrition.
That's because some vitamins are water-soluble — such as vitamin C and many B vitamins, according to Colorado State University — and caffeine's diuretic effect (meaning it increases urination) creates a situation where they're "washed" out of the body before being fully absorbed, Dr. Avena says. In addition to these water-soluble vitamins, caffeine can also interfere with the absorption of calcium and iron — two minerals that are also common deficiencies.
"Many people are deficient in one or more micronutrients, and cutting out caffeine can help reverse that," she notes.
3. Potentially Better Bone Health
Related to vitamin deficiencies, caffeine's effect on bone health has been a subject for debate. On the "skip the java" side is previous research in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, which found that higher caffeine levels interfered with vitamin D absorption, reducing the way the vitamin responded in osteoblasts, the cells responsible for building bone.
That mechanism, and the strong link between vitamin D and calcium, may be why another study, which was published August 2017 in Archives of Medical Science, found that regular, high caffeine consumption is associated with reduced bone mineral density and increased urinary calcium loss.
On the other side of the debate, it’s suggested that these effects are minimal in those who get the recommended amount of calcium daily, and that these effects can be offset by adding a small amount of milk to a cup of coffee or tea.
4. Keeps Wrinkles at Bay for Longer
There are many factors when it comes to development of wrinkles, but a big one is how well your body can continue making collagen, a protein that provides structure to skin, as well as tendons and ligaments, according to previous research. As we age, our collagen production decreases naturally, research notes, which can affect skin resiliency, elasticity, and hydration. What speeds up that process? Too much UV light, tobacco, excessive sugar intake, and surprisingly, a large amount of caffeine.
"As research has shown, caffeine actually interferes with collagen synthesis," says Los Angeles-based registered dietitian Melissa Hooper. "When collagen stores begin to decline, which occurs around age 30, it creates wrinkles. Cutting out caffeine is a simple and inexpensive dietary change that can be done to support collagen stores and help delay wrinkles."
5. Reduce the Menopause 'Power Surges'
Caffeine can have an effect on hormones, Hooper says, particularly estrogen. Although previous research has found that caffeine can change how estrogen is metabolized in younger women, it may also increase estrogen for those who are going through menopause, according to Hooper.
"That has a tendency to increase hot flashes," she says. "We see that with menopausal women who regularly drink caffeine."
One caveat to this, though, is that these estrogen changes may vary according to race, a study from the National Institutes of Health notes. Also, dose dependence may play a part. In other words, if someone drinks one cup of coffee every day, she may not see these results, but if it’s more than two cups daily, it may be an issue.
6. Lower the Risk of Heartburn
According to Linda Nikolakopoulos, RD, who is based in Boston, caffeine is often a main trigger for heartburn and acid reflux, and her clients have seen tremendous success with alleviating symptoms by going caffeine-free. Previous research has shown that coffee, in particular, can boost heartburn risk but even tea to a lesser extent can be problematic. That's because coffee has a high degree of acidity, similar to other drinks with high acid content like orange juice.
"This can be a game changer if you suffer from these issues," she says. "Cutting back or eliminating caffeine is one of the first strategies I recommend, because it can provide great relief."
7. Increase Chances for Fertility
When Kenney sees women who have fertility concerns, she usually suggests they dial way back on the caffeine.
"Caffeine can decrease the flow of blood to the uterus, which can interfere with implantation," she says. "Too much caffeine can also increase the risk of blood clotting and miscarriage."
When it comes to fertility, cutting caffeine has the potential to benefit men as well. A June 2017 study in Nutrition Journal suggested caffeine may reduce the integrity of sperm by affecting DNA, potentially reducing reproductive function. The study does note that results have been inconsistent, though.
8. Less Anxiety and Better Immune Function
Just to revisit that cortisol bump for a moment: That surge of cortisol does more than give you a temporary feeling of energy, says Kenney. Regular consumption may start to make you feel less like a warrior and more like a worrier.
"The way caffeine causes cortisol, in particular, to stay elevated is similar to those experiencing acute stress," Kenney says. If it's only the caffeine that's spiking your stress response, that's one thing, but on top of other daily stressors, it can ultimately put you at higher risk of stress-related issues like lower immune function, according to a review published in October 2015 in Current Opinion in Psychology.
9. More Digestive Regularity and Better Hydration
Although caffeine can get things moving, it can sometimes make that process just a little too speedy, Kenney says. The substance increases peristalsis, the muscle contractions that keep food in transit through your digestive system, previous research suggests.
While that's important, it can also contribute to loose stools and even diarrhea, and combined with caffeine's diuretic effects, that may increase your risk of dehydration, and could contribute to that lack of full absorption for some micronutrients.
10. Better Workout Prep for Those With Cardiovascular Risks
Caffeine is a common ingredient in preworkout mixes because of its stimulant effects, but a study published in March 2019 in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that those with cardiovascular risk factors were at higher risk of blood clot formation while working out if they had caffeine before the activity. Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and obesity, says lead researcher Paul Nagekirk, PhD, director of the Integrative Exercise Physiology Lab at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
"The difficulty is that many people, especially young people, don't tend to know their numbers with blood pressure and cholesterol," he says. "Even if you think these are fine because you’re fit, it’s possible they could be high due to an inherited condition, for example."
11. Deeper Sleep for More Time
Of all the effects of caffeine, sleep quality and quantity may be the most studied, and for good reason. That huge spike in cortisol and adrenaline can be tough on your sleep quality, according to Michael Breus, PhD, Manhattan Beach, California–based author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan, and the biggest problem is its staying power.
"Caffeine can stay in your system for hours, so that afternoon pick-me-up can result in difficulty falling asleep later, or not getting deep sleep, but you may not connect the two," he says. According to a study published in February 2017 in Sleep Medicine Reviews, caffeine can reduce total sleep time, worsen perceived sleep quality, and increase wakefulness, particularly among older adults.