Is caffeine good for you? Caffeine (1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine) has a reputation for increasing heart rate, stimulating responsiveness and exacerbating anxiety, yet it remains one of the most consumed substances with more than 85% of American adults regularly ingesting caffeine at average doses of more than 200 mg/day (just more than 2 cups of coffee or 5 cans of soda).
In the medical world, caffeine has been in clinical use for decades to treat breathing issues in pre-term infants and to improve respiratory function in adults. It suppresses inflammation, modulates immune responses and is a known antiviral that improves respiratory symptoms. It is now also a candidate drug for acute respiratory distress syndrome in Covid-19 patients, as it is seen to efficiently improve tissue oxygenation, reduce asthma reactions and decrease pulmonary hypertension.[i]
So which is it – good or bad?
We reviewed scientific studies published in the last two years, and given the Covid-19 pandemic, we specifically looked at its effects on our immune system.
Besides improving our breathing, we know from past studies that caffeine positively impacts chronic diseases such as obesity, cancer, and neuro-degenerative and cardiovascular diseases. The ways it does so are not well understood, but are thought to lie in the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of coffee containing caffeine, caffeic acid, coumaric acid, nicotinic acid, ferulic acid, trigonelline, cafestol, and kahweol.[ii]
From an anti-inflammatory viewpoint, caffeine reduced production of cytokines (which if not moderated, can lead to the development of the so called “cytokine storm”) and the expression of programmed cell death proteins in Covid-19 patients. This immune modulating effect was dependent on the dosage of caffeine and further research is needed to identify the exact way in which it benefits the immune response. [iii]
Caffeine’s role in preventing viral replication was also noted in Hepatitis C studies and as far as these anti-viral effects are concerned, caffeine has also displayed anti-viral activity against human immunodeficiency virus type I (HIV-1). This property of caffeine can make it an attractive agent to be included in various COVID-19 drug formulations and it must be considered as a potential candidate for further investigations in SARS-COV-2 interventions.[iv]
Recent studies in mice now also highlight its anti-infection potential against life threatening bacteria such as Listeria and research is starting to look at this in humans.[v]
Drinking coffee may therefore offer your immune system a boost and help fight off viral and bacterial infections, but not all coffee has the same level of such protection. Robusta coffee, popular in espresso blends where it develops the crema and provides body, displayed the best antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. In all coffee, the chlorogenic acid and caffeine content of the coffee were linked to anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activities respectively.[vi]
So while caffeine is contra-indicated in some anxiety and cardiovascular illnesses, there is a growing body of evidence that moderate consumption is in fact, health enhancing. The source of caffeine seemingly plays a part in determining its impact, but regardless, the evidence is growing that certain compounds in coffee can really assist our immune system in fighting off disease.
Time to switch on your coffee machine and make both your palate and your immune system happy. Don’t forget to use a good water filter, you don’t want your immune system, using all its new found energy, having to fight off an e.coli infection!
[i] Faezeh Monji, Abrar Al-Mahmood Siddiquee, Farshad Hashemian. 2020. Can pentoxifylline and similar xanthine derivatives find a niche in COVID-19 therapeutic strategies? A ray of hope in the midst of the pandemic. European Journal of Pharmacology, Vol 887.
[ii] Büşra Açıkalın, Nevin Sanlier.2021. Coffee and its effects on the immune system. Trends in Food Science & Technology, Volume 114, 625-632.
[iii] Seyed Mohammad, Iman Moezzi, Pouria Mosaddeghi, Sadra Nadimi, Parashkouhi Seyed, Mostafa Fazel, Hoseini Fatemeh, Badakhshan Manica Negahdaripour. 2021. Interferon-inducer antivirals: Potential candidates to combat COVID-19. 2021. International Immunopharmacology, Vol 91.
[iv] Nairah Noor, Adil Gani, Asir Gani, Asima Shah, Zanoor ul Ashraf. 2021. Exploitation of polyphenols and proteins using nanoencapsulation for anti-viral and brain boosting properties – Evoking a synergistic strategy to combat COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, Vol 180, 375-384.
[v] Ingrydt de Alcântara Almeida, Betty Mancebo Dorvigny, Lethicia Souza Tavares, Lucas Nunes Santana, Jose Vitor Lima-Filho. 2021. Anti-inflammatory activity of caffeine (1,3,7-trimethylxanthine) after experimental challenge with virulent Listeria monocytogenes in Swiss mice. International Immunopharmacology, Vol 100.
[vi] Mayara Fumiere Lemos, Nathacha de Andrade Salustriano, Mariana Merigueti de Souza Costa, Karla Lirio, Aymbiré Francisco Almeida da Fonseca, Henrique Poltronieri Pacheco, Denise Coutinho Endringer, Márcio Fronza, Rodrigo Scherer. 2022. Chlorogenic acid and caffeine contents and anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities of green beans of conilon and arabica coffees harvested with different degrees of maturation. Journal of Saudi Chemical Society, Volume 26, Issue 3.