Many of us can’t get through a day without a cup of coffee, tea, soda or other caffeine-rich beverage. But can drinking too much caffeine be good for seniors? Actually, caffeine has been shown to have positive effects on older muscles, alertness, bone health and even cancer prevention. And the more cups consumed on a moderate basis (no more than 3 cups a day), the better the benefits appear to be.
While caffeine has long been known as a stimulant that can maximize mental alertness, it can actually help the brain boost short-term memory up to 24 hours after it is consumed. In studies by Johns Hopkins University, participants in a research group (who did not drink or eat products containing caffeine regularly) were given either a 200 milligram caffeine tablet or a placebo five minutes after they studied a series of images. 24 hours later, both groups were shown the same images, as well as some new and altered images. The group that consumed the caffeine was able to better remember which images they saw the day before, and which were similar but not identical. According to researchers, this meant a deeper level of memory retention.
The effects of caffeine on long-term memory have been inconclusive in most recent studies. Currently studies are being conducted to see if there might be a way that caffeine can help protect seniors from the memory-limiting effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
Protection from basal cell carcinoma is one of the most positive findings regarding caffeine. A study conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School followed over 72,000 participants over a 14-year period. Women who consumed more than three cups of coffee per day reduced their risk for basal cell carcinoma by 20% and men who did so reduced their risk by 9%. This was compared with men and women who consumed less than one cup per month.
Other studies have linked caffeine with protection against prostate, liver and breast cancers, as well as lowering the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Finally, caffeine is known to strengthen muscles in seniors, which helps decrease the risk of falls or other injuries. In a study at England’s Coventry University, the diaphragm and leg muscles were isolated in test mice and humans. Muscle performance was enhanced in those who consumed caffeine, although “juvenile” muscles (those developed earlier in life) did not have as much strength as older muscles.
There are some downsides of caffeine for seniors, however…especially if it is consumed too frequently. Excessive consumption of caffeine can cause dehydration from more frequent urination. Lightheadedness may result and increase the chance of falling. Too much caffeine can reduce bone strength (leading to osteoporosis) and elevate blood pressure slightly. Jitteriness, sleeplessness and irritability are also common.
Overall, caffeine can be a very good thing for those in their later years when consumed in moderation. For those who have been drinking caffeine for years, there’s no reason to give up that must-have morning cup of coffee or tea.