Synthetic vs. Natural Caffeine and How Each May Affect Aging

Some studies suggest synthetic caffeine may accelerate aging, but research is limited. Learn about the differences between natural and synthetic caffeine.
Synthetic vs. Natural Caffeine and How Each May Affect Aging
(Ivan Kurmyshov/Shutterstock)
Vance Voetberg
From Starbucks to Red Bull to Coke, caffeine has become the energy lifeline for the 75 percent of Americans who consume it on a daily basis. It is the spark that ignites our brains and bodies to get through a long day.
However, not all caffeine presents itself the same, according to emerging research demonstrating that synthetic caffeine may accelerate aging while naturally occurring caffeine could slow age-related decline.

Does Synthetic Caffeine Accelerate Aging?

The type of caffeine in your coffee may play a role in its protective effect against aging.
Approximately 60 percent of the caffeine consumed by Americans is synthesized in a lab, meaning it does not come from natural sources like coffee beans or tea plants. Synthetic caffeine is what popular companies like Pepsi, Coke, and Red Bull incorporate in their beverages to give their drinks an extra kick. 
In a 2017 study published in Nutrition & Metabolism, higher caffeine intake was associated with shorter telomeres, a marker of cellular aging, in adults. However, increased coffee consumption was linked to longer telomeres. This suggests compounds beyond caffeine may provide anti-aging effects. “On the surface, it might be assumed that caffeine intake and coffee consumption are essentially the same variable,” the researchers wrote. “They are not.”
These findings echo earlier ones that discovered greater coffee consumption was associated with longer telomeres among 4,780 female nurses in the United Kingdom. 
However, a 2023 study published in Nutrients found instant coffee negatively associated with telomere length, potentially due to higher DNA-damaging mineral lead content. Standard filtered coffee showed no adverse effect.
Research also indicates that green tea could protect against telomere shortening, while synthetic caffeine indicated DNA damage. Therefore, based on our findings,” the authors of a study investigating green tea, coffee, and caffeine from soft drinks articulated, “We suggest beneficial effects of green tea consumption and potentially disadvantageous effects of soft drink consumption on LTL shortening, which may reflect accelerated biological aging.” 

Coffee and Tea’s Anti-Aging Secrets

Multiple antioxidant compounds present in coffee and tea likely contribute to their anti-aging effects, according to some research.
Studies show coffee and tea protect DNA integrity and reduce oxidative damage. In one randomized controlled study involving 50 men and 50 women, dark roast coffee reduced DNA damage by 23 percent in just four weeks. Similar results were identified in a separate eight-week interventional study that included 96 adults.

“Caffeine that is found in coffee or tea exists in a matrix of over 1,000 other chemical compounds, most notably polyphenolic compounds that have potent antioxidant effects,” David Wiss, who holds a doctorate in public health and is a registered dietician nutritionist, told The Epoch Times. Polyphenols are known to reduce oxidative stress by scavenging free radicals that can cause cellular damage, he added. For this reason, he said, both coffee and tea have anti-inflammatory properties that “isolated caffeine does not offer.”

While coffee and tea have demonstrated protective effects against neurogenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, some research shows that isolated caffeine fails to protect against neurodegeneration. Coffee may still be the best source of caffeine to protect against Alzheimer’s disease because of a component in it that synergizes with caffeine to enhance protection against disease progression.

How Much Is Too Much Caffeine?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends consuming no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine, about four or five cups of coffee, daily.

Whereas a naturally caffeinated food like chocolate contains approximately 12 milligrams of caffeine, and beverages like coffee and tea contain up to 95 milligrams of natural caffeine per serving, energy drinks can contain as much as 300 grams of synthetic caffeine per serving.

While this spike in caffeine content has been associated with heart attacks in young people, contrasting studies show coffee and tea have cardioprotective effects.

America’s dependence on caffeine—both natural and synthetic—reflects an “addiction crisis” that is problematic, Mr. Wiss said. “Our society is too reliant on caffeine as a stimulant,” he added.

He recommends eating breakfast before caffeine and waiting 60 to 90 minutes after waking before indulging in caffeinated beverages or other sources of caffeine. “My other recommendation is to take a three-day (or longer) break from caffeine every three to six months,” he added.

Vance Voetberg is a journalist for The Epoch Times based in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a B.S. in journalism and aims to present truthful, inspiring health-related news. He is the founder of the nutrition blog “Running On Butter.”
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