We owe caffeine an apology. After years of blaming our frequent bathroom breaks and racing heartbeats on caffeine, recent studies suggest we've been pointing fingers at the wrong suspect.
"As a physician, we have often associated caffeine with a number of symptoms," says Jennifer Caudle, DO, a board-certified Family Medicine physician and assistant professor in the department of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. "For instance, if someone is anxious or jittery, we'll want to know if they've had caffeine. If someone's heart is racing or beating abnormally, we want to know if they've had caffeine. Why? Because that's what we've been taught — that's what we thought all these years."
While Dr. Caudle feels further research on the topic is necessary, generally speaking, she's now taking a step back from judging caffeine too harshly. "Maybe it's not what we thought it was and maybe it doesn't do what we thought it did," she says.
Here are three of the most common things you hear about caffeine and the recent studies that debunk them:
1. Caffeine Doesn't Mess With the Way Your Heart Pitter Patters
According to January 2016 research in the Journal of the American Heart Association, regular caffeine consumption does not result in extra heartbeats.
Researchers questioned nearly 1,400 adults about their coffee, tea, and chocolate intake. Then, for a full year, the researchers tracked the participants' heart function using 24-hour ambulatory electrocardiography monitoring.
Not surprisingly, 61 percent of the participants consumed more than one caffeinated product every day. The other finding was a little surprising, however: The researchers did not come across any heart function changes in the participants who consumed caffeine.
"Clinical recommendations advising against the regular consumption of caffeinated products to prevent disturbances of the heart's cardiac rhythm should be reconsidered, as we may unnecessarily be discouraging consumption of items like chocolate, coffee and tea that might actually have cardiovascular benefits," said senior author Gregory Marcus, MD, in a statement.
2. Caffeine Won't Dehydrate Your Body
Java lovers rejoice! A 2014 study published in PLOS One found that moderate consumption of caffeine did not cause dehydration. In fact, it provided similar hydrating qualities to water.
In two small experiments, U.K. researchers asked 50 men to chug either four cups of coffee or four cups of water every day for three days. The researchers found that the men who drank coffee didn't show any significant changes in total body water, body mass measurements, and urine volume.
So even though water is always the ultimate way to quench your thirst, sipping a latte shouldn't deplete you, either.
3. Caffeine Won't Harm Your Bundle of Joy
November 2015 research in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that — contrary to popular belief — women who eat and drink moderate amounts of caffeine during pregnancy are not affecting their baby's intelligence or future weight.
In one of the first studies of its kind, investigators looked at the levels of paraxanthine — a compound in caffeine — in the blood of approximately 2,200 expectant mothers between 1959 and 1974 (a time when coffee consumption during pregnancy was more frequent than it is today). The researchers compared those levels during the pregnancy and to the children's IQs and behavior at 4 and 7 years old.
The result: There were "no consistent patterns" between the moms' caffeine intake and the development of their children.
And that's not all — earlier research (which involved the same study authors and group of women) found that caffeine consumption during pregnancy was also not associated with a higher risk of childhood obesity.
"Taken as a whole, we consider our results to be reassuring for pregnant women who consume moderate amounts of caffeine or the equivalent to 1 or 2 cups of coffee per day," said Sarah Keim, PhD, co-author and principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in a statement.
So we hope this information makes your morning cappuccino even more delicious. May the froth be with you.