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Can Caffeine Enhance Fat Loss?

By Meagan Russell
In Bayou Health
Oct 1st, 2021

article by Shannon Dahlum

Caffeine is the world’s most popular unregulated drug. It occurs naturally in coffee beans, cacao beans and tea leaves where it serves as a pesticide to protect those plants. It’s also artificially added to sodas, energy drinks, medications, workout supplements, and even some foods. Caffeine is commonly added to supplements and drinks marketed for fat loss, but how effective is it for actually enhancing fat loss? 

Caffeine is a stimulant. It increases brain activity and heightens awareness. Your nervous system assumes this heightened state of alert means there must be a threat close by, so it triggers the release of adrenaline. Your adrenaline is what gives you that boost of energy and increases heart rate.  The caffeine itself isn’t some sort of magical liquid energy; it triggers your stress response, which does temporarily elevate your metabolic rate and enhances fat loss. However, when your nervous system remains in a state of chronic stress, it actually triggers fat storage and makes healthy fat loss extremely difficult.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in how you experience pleasure. It provides a sense of motivation and it helps you focus. Heroin and cocaine increase dopamine levels in the brain by slowing down the rate at which it’s reabsorbed, and this is why those drugs are so addictive; it’s the increase in dopamine levels that feels so good and has people going back for more. Caffeine works in exactly the same way, lighting up the same pleasure 

centers in your brain, only to a much lesser degree.

In addition, your body also builds a tolerance to caffeine, meaning that if consumed regularly, you’ll continue to need more of it to feel the same effects. Over time, you become physically dependent on it and experience negative withdrawal effects if you stop consuming it cold turkey. The ways in which caffeine stimulates your brain’s pleasure centers, your body’s ability to build a tolerance to it, and the withdrawal symptoms it can lead to are what make caffeine a physically addictive substance.  

Once the boost in adrenaline and dopamine from caffeine consumption wears off, you’re left with a more depressed mood and energy than before and you’ll likely start craving another boost. Caffeine has a half life of six hours, which means that if you drink two cups of coffee containing a total of 200 mg of caffeine at 8:00am, you still have 100 mg of caffeine in your system at 2:00 pm. Of course, everyone responds to and metabolizes caffeine differently, so this can certainly vary.  Assuming you still have 100 mg of caffeine in your body when that 2:00 pm slump hits and you drink another two cups of coffee, you now have 300 mg of caffeine in your body. Six hours after this, at 8:00 pm, you may still have 150 mg of caffeine affecting your system and disrupting your sleep that night. Even if you sleep through the night, you likely won’t fully benefit from the deepest stages of restful sleep and you’ll wake up groggily reaching for a mug of coffee. In this scenario, you literally have caffeine in your system from morning to night and a consistently overstimulated nervous system. 

If you do a quick search for studies touting the benefits of caffeine consumption, there are many. A decreased risk for Parkinson’s Disease, cirrhosis, colon cancer, and gallstones have been shown with regular coffee consumption, for example. As with most things, however, more isn’t always better. According to the American Medical Association, a safe amount for daily consumption tops out at 400 mg for adults, which is the equivalent of about four cups of coffee. The FDA regulates the amount of caffeine added to sodas, allowing a maximum of 0.02% caffeine concentration. This means a 12 ounce soda can have no more than 71 mg of caffeine. However, this rule applies to carbonated beverages only. When it comes to other beverages, foods, and supplements, there is no limit to the amount of caffeine manufacturers can add. Energy drinks are completely unregulated; 5 Hour Energy shots contain 200 mg of caffeine and Bang contains a whopping 300 mg. 

Your body is very intelligent and it’s always working in your favor to ensure your survival. Your stress hormones serve a very important and beneficial purpose; to help you have the energy necessary to deal with imminent threats. But when stress hormones are consistently coursing through your body, they begin to have very negative consequences. Consistently elevated stress hormones enhance inflammation and contribute to the breakdown of healthy tissue. 

When your brain senses a consistently elevated level of these stress hormones, it will shut down their production to protect your body.  Even though you continue drinking caffeine to try and trigger another energy boost, your brain won’t allow your adrenal glads to pump out any more adrenaline. No matter how much caffeine you consume, you may continue feeling completely wiped out. At this point, you may also begin to struggle with weight loss resistance, as your body also holds on to as much body fat as possible. Fat is stored energy, and since your body has essentially gone into an energetic debt, your brain forces your body to hold onto as much of it as possible. Metabolism has slowed to decrease energy consumption and enhance energy storage. 

Yes, caffeine can temporarily boost your mood and metabolism, but how it impacts you depends on your total stress load. If you’re already experiencing a high level of physical and/or mental stress, adding to the stress response through caffeine consumption will be detrimental, leaving you feeling jumpy, wired, strung out, and even lower in energy. 

When you’re in a resilient state of balance, with a healthy stress load and recovery, a morning dose of caffeine can give you a boost without overtaxing your system. Yes, it can have a positive effect on fat loss, too.  Beware, though, because of it’s addictive quality, it’s easy to overdo in the long run.  The key, as always, is to pay attention to how you’re affected by it and adjust your consumption accordingly.