March is National Caffeine Awareness Month, which invites a question: Did you have your coffee today? Caffeine plays a big role in our culture—in the form of coffee, tea, sodas, chocolate, even medications—but did you know it’s also the most widely used drug in the world? Many people rely on coffee on a daily basis, which accounts for about 54% of all caffeine use, while tea accounts for about 43%.1

The question—especially for women—is whether or not heavy caffeine consumption is in your best health interest. In her book Active Wellness (2003), Gail Reichler, MS, RD, CDN, explains that caffeine belongs to a group of drugs called “methylxanthines” which affect the body in numerous ways. Caffeine operates as a stimulant by targeting the central nervous system and triggering the release of stress hormones.

Caffeine has other effects you may not be aware of—especially where bone health is concerned. Specifically, caffeine has been reported to decrease bone mineral density, negatively influence calcium absorption and increase the risk of bone fracture in women.2 Postmenopausal women are at highest risk for osteoporosis and fractures.

Weight-bearing and resistance exercise, limiting alcohol and caffeine intake, and staying tobacco free are part of a bone-healthy lifestyle. Calcium and vitamin D supplements are especially important.3,4,5 In fact, women who drink coffee regularly and don’t supplement at least 800 mg. of calcium daily may experience accelerated bone loss from the spine/body.6,7

One study looking at caffeine and mineral loss revealed that caffeine increased the urinary excretion of calcium, magnesium, sodium, and chloride for at least three hours after intake, noting that failing to replace these important minerals would increase risk of osteoporosis.8 It follows that even moderate coffee drinkers should be especially diligent about taking their daily multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. The same goes for soft drinks. In fact, coca cola is linked not only to osteoporosis, but also obesity and kidney disease.9

If you want to reduce your daily caffeine intake—given these potential health concerns—do so gradually, as some people experience headaches when cutting back on caffeine. You can minimize discomfort by combining regular with decaffeinated coffee, and increasing the amount of decaf over time. Better yet, incorporate a revitalizing morning whey protein shake, which will help stabilize your blood sugar and keep you going long and strong. With the natural energy boost you experience as a result, you may find that you hardly even miss the extra coffee.

1 Prog Clin Biol Res. 1984;158:185-213
2 Med Hypotheses. 2009 Jul;73(1):83-5. Epub 2009 Mar 10
3 Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2010 Apr;67(7 Suppl 3):S9-19
4 Pharmacotherapy. 2009 Mar;29(3):305-17
5 Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2010 Apr;67(7 Suppl 3):S9-19
6 Am J Clin Nutr. 1994 Oct;60(4):573-8
7 Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Nov;74(5):694-700
8 J Nutr. 1993 Sep;123(9):1611-4
9 J Psychopharmacol. 2010 Oct;24(10):1569-72. Epub 2009 May 7