• Jack E. James


Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in history. This chapter provides an overview of the effects of caffeine on human health and well-being, with particular reference to the chronic effects of dietary use. Consideration is given to the main sources of caffeine and prevailing patterns of usage; the pharmacology of the drug, including the main mechanism of action and the key processes of physical dependence and tolerance; and the psychopharmacology of caffeine, with particular attention to psychomotor performance and mood, and the processes of withdrawal and withdrawal reversal. Regarding health consequences, attention is first given to mental health and well-being. This is followed by considerations of physical health, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, maternal use, and potential adverse interactions between caffeine and other drugs. Attention is given to whether caffeine may be regarded as a drug of addiction, whether there is a safe level of consumption, and processes for reducing and quitting caffeine consumption. Claims concerning possible health benefits of habitual caffeine use are examined, with particular reference to Type 2 diabetes mellitus and Parkinson’s disease, and mention is made of the growing interest in compounds other than caffeine in caffeine beverages. In the final section, consideration is given to major threats to the integrity of caffeine science, a topic that has thus far received too little attention in the literature. The main conclusions are that dietary caffeine is harmful to health. In particular, periods of caffeine abstinence in habitual users have negative effects on psychomotor performance and mood; habitual use produces modest increases in blood pressure that probably have negative effects on population cardiovascular health; caffeine interacts adversely with some medicines, and use during pregnancy may increase the risk of spontaneous abortion and lower birth weight. In contrast, there is little or no satisfactory evidence of net benefits of dietary caffeine. The extensive involvement of industry in caffeine research raises serious questions concerning the current and continued integrity of caffeine science.


Caffeine Dietary caffeine Blood pressure Pharmacology of caffeine Adenosine Physical dependence Withdrawal Tolerance Withdrawal reversal Performance Mood Sleep Wakefulness Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Cardiovascular disease Epidemiology Cancer Maternal use of caffeine Adverse drug interactions Safe levels of caffeine consumption Quitting caffeine Type 2 diabetes mellitus Parkinson’s disease Scientific integrity Conflict of interest Self-serving bias 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNational University of IrelandGalwayIreland

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