upper waypoint

To Bean or Not to Bean: Should We Be Worried About Caffeine’s Effect on Our Bodies and Society?

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

Do you need a caffeinated drink like coffee to start your day or meet a big deadline? You’re not alone. About 90% of human beings worldwide consume some form of caffeine. Medically, caffeine isn’t considered addictive. But it can feel that way since caffeine blocks the neurochemicals that make us feel sleepy. And too much caffeine can cause jitteriness and even anxiety attacks. But all that awake time does have benefits. Most historians agree that caffeine played a role in both the American and French revolutions, and it keeps the workforce chugging along to this day. It also may boost heart and brain health. Watch the episode and decide for yourself: should we be worried about caffeine’s effects on our bodies and society?

TEACHERS: Guide your students to practice civil discourse about current topics and get practice writing CER (claim, evidence, reasoning) responses. Explore lesson supports. 

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a psychoactive/psychostimulant drug that is found naturally in many types of plants. Caffeine is typically safe for consumption within appropriate doses. Despite being labeled as a drug, caffeine is generally not considered to be addictive. However, here in the U.S. caffeine use has become ingrained in our work culture, leaving many of us dependent on it.

How does caffeine affect your brain?


Ever wonder why you feel sleepy? Well, the chemical responsible for that feeling is called adenosine. While you go through your day, your brain is constantly creating it to help promote sleep activity. Caffeine as a chemical actually prevents adenosine receptors from absorbing the adenosine you produce. However, this doesn’t stop you from producing adenosine, which explains the crash many of us get after the effects of caffeine start fading.

Is coffee healthy for you?

Well, that mostly depends on you. As of right now, research shows that, for the most part, coffee is healthy for you. However, as with everything pertaining to diet, this is on a case-by-case basis. Coffee itself is chock-full of polyphenols – a.k.a antioxidants – which can help prevent and repair oxidative stress you receive by living your life. Caffeine is also a polyphenol that has neuroprotective qualities. The trouble that most people have with coffee is with the caffeine content itself. Everybody has different levels of caffeine tolerance, meaning that a healthy dosage of coffee or caffeine is different for everyone. A few clear signs that you have consumed too much caffeine are things like heart palpitations, jitteriness, anxiety, etc.

What role has caffeine/coffee played in work culture?

You could argue that during the industrial revolution, coffee was almost as valuable a resource as coal or oil. It was the fuel to get the common worker through their day without keeling over in the middle of their shift. It wasn’t always like this though. The bean itself has seen a lot of use throughout human history as a form of medicine. In the 1400’s the method of brewing coffee was finally discovered. Literally revolutionizing the world, for better or worse playing a key part in both the American and French revolutions, as well as the Industrial revolution


“Coffee, The Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health, 2020


“Caffeine,” National Library of Medicine, 2022


“Childhood Caffeine Exposure May Negatively Affect Cognitive Functioning,” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2021


“Caffeine and Children,” American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2020


“Is caffeine addictive? The most widely used psychoactive substance in the world affects same parts of the brain as cocaine,” National Library of Medicine, 1998


“A historical study of coffee in Japanese and Asian countries: focusing the medicinal uses in Asian traditional medicines,” National Library of Medicine, 2002


“The Invisible Addiction: Is It Time To Give Up Caffeine?” Michael Pollan, The Guardian, 2021


“Is coffee good for your memory? A Harvard brain expert shares how she gets the most out of its health benefits.” CNBC, 2022


“Childhood Caffeine Exposure May Negatively Affect Cognitive Functioning,” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2021 https://archives.nida.nih.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2021/04/childhood-caffeine-exposure-may-negatively-affect-cognitive-functioning

lower waypoint
next waypoint