Does Caffeine Cause Inflammation? - The Truth Revealed

  • By Performance Lab
  • 7 minute read
Does Caffeine Cause Inflammation? - The Truth Revealed

For many people, coffee gets them out of bed in the morning. When you’re not exactly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed yet, but there’s a steaming cup of coffee calling your name, leaving the warm bed sheets behind is a bit more enticing.

But while there is something comforting about a coffee - be it in the form of a latte, iced coffee, or espresso shot - there’s also a lot of talk about the dark side of coffee and whether it can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

With increasing knowledge of inflammation and all that stems from it, there’s one question that’s been popping up more than usual: does caffeine cause inflammation?

As it turns out, coffee and caffeine can increase inflammatory levels, but it also contains anti-inflammatory compounds, so their effects largely depend on what and how much you’re drinking.

We’ve dug into the research and are giving you the scoop on how caffeine could affect the inflammatory pathways in our body and whether it’s worthwhile to keep the caffeine or cut it out cold turkey.

Your Body and Caffeine

Before diving into how caffeine affects inflammation, it’s important to understand its effect on the body. For most people, caffeine causes mild stimulation and may increase energy, but long term, it can lead to severe consequences if consumed in high doses.

As a compound, caffeine is a fast-acting stimulant that primarily affects the central nervous system. It’s rapidly absorbed from the GI tract within about 45 minutes of ingestion and is transported through body water.

It has an average half-life of five hours in healthy individuals, meaning the effects last an average of five hours but can range anywhere from 1.5 to 9.5 hours 1.

For most people, the plasma concentration of caffeine is at its highest from 15 to 120 minutes after consumption, but this varies based on factors such as gastric emptying time and dietary compounds that slow absorption (fiber, etc.).

The reason why caffeine elicits such powerful cognitive effects is that it’s both fat-soluble and water-soluble, so it’s capable of passing the blood-brain barrier to enter the brain and cause direct stimulation.

But there’s another caveat to caffeine - it shares similarities to another molecule called adenosine, which plays a vital role in the sleep-wake cycle.

Essentially, caffeine can cut the line to enter the brain and bind to adenosine receptors, negating adenosine’s effects and tricking the brain into increasing your perception of wakefulness 2.

And there’s another side effect. Caffeine also heavily affects the activity of our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis - the interconnected system responsible for secreting most of your body’s hormones 3; it also influences your body’s ability to deal with stress.

In response to stimulation, the body releases two hormones: epinephrine and cortisol. Epinephrine is one of the important fight-or-flight hormones that increases respiration rate, heart rate, and blood pressure; cortisol is a catabolic stress hormone that mobilizes stored glucose to provide energy to fight during perceived stress. Caffeine causes increases in both 4.

Simply put, excessive caffeine consumption can “re-create” perceived stress in the body and increase cortisol and epinephrine levels, interfering with normal physiological functions and your body’s ability to regulate inflammation 5.

But here’s the thing with caffeine. While too much coffee isn’t generally a good thing, coffee does have beneficial properties - in moderate amounts; it’s both an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory 6.

And while it does offer beneficial effects for various diseases, excessive consumption can lead you into troubled waters.

Does Coffee Influence The Inflammatory Response?

With all that said, there are, no doubt, benefits to consuming coffee, but the benefits of coffee don’t extend to all caffeine sources, and there is potential for it to cause inflammation.

Studies find that coffee exerts both pro- and anti-inflammatory benefits depending on the individual 7. One study found that the polyphenols in coffee could benefit inflammatory markers like cytokines, chemokines, and basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF-2), with a higher intake leading to more significant benefits 8.

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Another study found that chlorogenic acid, the major polyphenol in coffee, benefits inflammatory pathways positively and provides metabolic and cardiovascular health benefits 9. But remember, that’s coffee in its purest form - not the sugar-laden, flavored stuff we buy from Starbucks.

On the flip side, caffeine may offer a different story.

Caffeine isn’t exclusive to coffee, but coffee is one of the most significant sources of caffeine for most of the population.

And while coffee contains several anti-inflammatory compounds that can potentially counterbalance the effects of caffeine, the inflammatory response of caffeine is mainly dependent on how your body metabolizes the stimulant.

For the average healthy person, moderate amounts of caffeine likely don’t trigger inflammation. Still, you also have to consider how quickly it’s metabolized in the body - this is where the half-life comes into play.

If someone’s body metabolizes caffeine slowly, which is determined by genetics, it could trigger an inflammatory reaction and spike levels of cortisol 10.

So, for people already having hormonal imbalances, this becomes more problematic; cortisol, by nature, is an anti-inflammatory compound, but chronically high caffeine has the opposite effect and may increase inflammatory markers 11, 12.

If you’re a slow metabolizer, caffeine moves slowly through your system. It can exacerbate the stress response and leave you with many unpleasant side effects associated with high stress - anxiety, nervousness, jitters, and sweating.

On top of that, a high caffeine intake can also affect insulin function and insulin resistance via adenosine receptor antagonism and catecholamine release, which can have adverse outcomes for inflammatory pathways 13.

To add fuel to the fire, too much caffeine can also interfere with sleep, and adequate sleep is essential for a healthy inflammatory response 14.

So, while caffeine may not directly trigger inflammation, too much of it can lead to a hormonal cascade that can increase the activity of inflammatory pathways in the body.

As such, if you find yourself dealing with symptoms of inflammation or severe hormonal imbalances, cutting back on the amount of caffeine you’re consuming could be worthwhile.

Why Your Caffeine Source Matters

Although chemically, caffeine elicits the same actions in the body regardless of how you consume it - coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, etc. - part of the effects on inflammation may be mediated or exacerbated depending on what’s in the food or drink.

For example, pure black coffee has several anti-inflammatory compounds that could mitigate inflammation, but add a pile of white sugar and poor-quality cream to your coffee, and you’re headed towards a glucose spike and inflammation.

Green tea also contains potent compounds called catechins, such as EGCG, that can damper inflammation. But for something like caffeine-rich sodas full of high-fructose corn syrup, you’re driving inflammation up rather than curbing it.

So, it’s not such a matter of if caffeine causes inflammation. What’s more concerning is what else your caffeinated drinks contain causing the inflammation.

How to Get The Benefits of Coffee Without The Side Effects

For days when you wake up feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck, it can be tempting to pound back the coffee to help you function like a normal human being.

But with all the nasty side acute effects of high-dose caffeine - especially if you’re knocking it back in a sugar-filled iced coffee or a crappy pre-workout - are the risks worth the rewards?

Suppose you’re not keen on black coffee, matcha green tea, or other pure caffeinated beverages but still want the stimulatory effects of caffeine (minus the inflammation).

In that case, there are better alternatives - let us introduce you to the super stack: Caffeine+ combined with Performance Lab Omega-3.

Caffeine+ provides smarter stimulation from moderate-dose natural caffeine 50+ combined with Suntheanine® L-theanine delivers greater dosing precision, fewer side effects, and superior performance-tuned stimulation.

And with the addition of Ajipure® L-Tyrosine and NutriGenesis® B-Complex, Caffeine+ helps to support healthy recovery from all caffeine-driven activities by restoring caffeine-depleted brain chemicals for clean, relaxed energy.

And when you add in Omega-3, you’re getting a healthy dose of EPA+DHA derived from algae to drive down inflammation and provide optimal support for your heart, brain, muscles, and more.


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