For college students cramming during finals week, busy professionals working overtime or sleep-deprived parents, caffeine pills may seem like a quick-fix to boost energy levels. Offering the same — or sometimes even double —the caffeine content as a single cup of coffee, caffeine pills are commonly used by those looking to kick up caffeine consumption to power them through the day.
But are caffeine pills bad for you or can they be a healthy way to quench your coffee cravings? Keep reading for everything you need to know about this controversial caffeine supplement.
What Are Caffeine Pills?
Caffeine is a compound that acts as a central nervous stimulant, increasing energy levels and alertness while helping to fight off fatigue. It’s found naturally in many food sources, including coffee, tea and cacao seeds. It’s also added to other products like soda and energy drinks as well.
Caffeine pills, on the other hand, are a type of supplement made using caffeine, either extracted from natural sources or manufactured synthetically. Like other supplements such as green coffee bean extract, guarana or coffee fruit, people typically use it as a quick and convenient way to take advantage of the unique health benefits associated with caffeine. In fact, research shows that caffeine consumption may help reduce the risk of depression, boost metabolism and even improve exercise performance. (1, 2, 3)
Keep in mind that caffeine pills are different from caffeine powder, a supplement that the Federal Drug Administration has recently classified as dangerous and unlawful. (4) Unlike this concentrated caffeine powder, caffeine pills are found in tablet and capsule form, meaning you’re unlikely to see anyone snorting caffeine pills or purchasing in bulk to add to pre-workout cocktails.
That doesn’t mean that caffeine pills should be automatically considered a safe and healthy substitute for these dangerous supplements, however. While some claim that caffeine pills can be an easy, no-brew alternative to benefit-rich coffee, others point out that popping a pill won’t supply the same antioxidants or health-promoting properties as a hot cup of coffee or tea.
So do caffeine pills work? Or should you stick to your morning cup of joe to get your caffeine fix instead? Let’s dive in and take a closer look.
Caffeine Pills vs. Coffee
There are plenty of differences between caffeine pills and coffee, plus several different reasons why people may prefer one over the other. Here’s how the two stack up against each other:
- Acidity: Coffee is highly acidic, which can irritate the gastrointestinal tract and aggravate symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. This can trigger GERD symptoms like heartburn, chest pain and belching. While caffeine itself can also worsen GERD in some people, caffeine pills may be more well-tolerated in people who are sensitive to coffee and its effects.
- Dosage: Coffee nutrition, as in a single cup of coffee, typically provides around 95 milligrams of caffeine, which is significantly under the recommended daily limit of 400 milligrams per day for adults. Meanwhile, caffeine pills can contain between 100–200 milligrams per serving, making it much easier to go overboard and experience symptoms of a caffeine overdose such as anxiety, increased heart rate and digestive issues.
- Nutritional Value: Many people don’t enjoy the taste of coffee without piling on the cream and sugar, which can quickly turn a cup of coffee into a calorie bomb. And because many people turn to coffee for the thermogenic and metabolism-boosting benefits of caffeine, opting for black coffee without added sugar or caffeine pills for weight loss may be a better option.
- Antioxidant Content: Besides its caffeine content, coffee also offers a wealth of antioxidants and healing compounds, including chlorogenic, ferulic, caffeic and n-coumaric acids, all of which are thought to contribute to many of the health benefits associated with coffee. (5) Caffeine pills, on the other hand, are lacking these key antioxidants and contain only the caffeine found in coffee instead.
Are Caffeine Pills Safe? 8 Dangers
In moderation, caffeine can be safe and even beneficial, especially when it comes from natural sources like coffee, tea or cacao. In high amounts, however, caffeine can come with a long list of side effects and may even be downright dangerous to your health.
Here are a few of the top caffeine pills side effects to consider:
1. Anxiety: One of the hallmark side effects of caffeine consumption is anxiety, and taking large doses of caffeine pills and supplements can exponentially increase your risk.
2. Acid Reflux: Although caffeine pills are less acidic than coffee, the caffeine content can still trigger acid reflux symptoms in people who are sensitive to its effects.
3. Headaches: Caffeine has vasoconstrictive properties and, in some cases, can actually provide relief from headaches. (6) However, caffeine can also trigger headaches, especially in high doses or if overused.
4. High Blood Pressure: Some research suggests that caffeine may cause a slight increase in blood pressure, especially when caffeine pills or coffee are regularly consumed. (7)
5. Dependency: Caffeine is highly addictive and can cause withdrawal symptoms like irritability, low energy levels and headaches once eliminated from the diet. (8)
6. Insomnia: While caffeine may be fine in the morning or early in the day, taking a caffeine pill later on can interfere with sleep and cause insomnia.
Looking for a safer and more effective way to get your daily dose of caffeine without the negative side effects linked to caffeine pills? Here are a few energizing alternatives to caffeine pills that you may want to consider:
1. Black Coffee: Not only does coffee supply a good amount of caffeine in each serving, but it’s also high in antioxidants and other health-promoting properties. Skip the cream, sugar or artificial sweeteners and opt for a cup of rich black coffee instead to maximize the health benefits and keep calorie consumption in check.
2. Green Tea: This super healthy beverage is packed with polyphenols to help fight free radicals and aid in the prevention of chronic disease. It also contains a small amount of caffeine without the buzz that comes with caffeine pills or coffee. (11)
3. Ashwagandha: As one of the most powerful adaptogenic herbs on the planet, studies show that ashwagandha has rejuvenating, antioxidant and stress-relieving properties that work well in place of caffeine. (12)
6. Cacao Nibs: Derived from the caffeine-rich cacao seed, cacao nibs can naturally provide a bit of natural caffeine and make a great addition to baked goods, smoothies, overnight oats or homemade grainless granola.
- Caffeine pills are a common supplement made using caffeine from either natural or synthetic sources. They’re used by people looking to take advantage of the health benefits of caffeine, such as increased energy, improved physical performance and enhanced metabolism.
- There are several notable differences between caffeine pills vs coffee, especially in terms of acidity, dosage, nutritional value and antioxidant content. While coffee provides plenty of antioxidants and other nutritious compounds, caffeine pills contain only caffeine.
- What are the side effects of caffeine pills? Caffeine pills can be highly addictive and may contribute to symptoms like anxiety, acid reflux, headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, diarrhea and bone loss.
- Fortunately, there are plenty of other natural alternatives to caffeine pills that can provide the same health benefits, such as black coffee, green tea, ashwagandha, holy basil, Rooibos tea, cacao nibs and peppermint oil.