TIME Diet/Nutrition

There’s Now Coffee to Help You Fall Asleep

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A new product mixes coffee with a sleep-inducing herb

Imagine brewing coffee as a nightcap. That’s what Deland Jessop says he and his wife have begun to do with Counting Sheep Coffee—a new product designed to allow coffee lovers to drink a cup before bed without being kept awake for hours.

“Instead of a glass of wine, we’ll brew up a cup of coffee instead,” said Jessop, who launched the company in 2013.

When his wife complained that she couldn’t enjoy coffee after 3 p.m., Jessop turned his home into a makeshift lab to search for a possible solution. After experimenting with a variety of herbs and supplements, he says he stumbled upon valerian—a plant that has been used as a mild sedative in Europe for centuries. He mixed it with decaf to mask the pungent smell, and sleep coffee was born.

Jessop notes that Counting Sheep Coffee is a food product, not a drug to help with sleep. Valerian is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a food ingredient.

Experts don’t know exactly why the plant such a potent sleep-inducer, but there’s little known risk of side effects (other than the obvious drowsiness), says University of California San Francisco associate professor Stephen Bent. “In the studies that have been done, it’s been show to be safe,” he says. “It has a long traditional history of being used to induce sleep.”

The product first appeared at Bed, Bath & Beyond in 2013, and is now sold in several regional supermarkets.

TIME Cancer

This Drink Could Protect You From Skin Cancer

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The sun is the biggest culprit in causing skin cancer, but there’s a beverage that may thwart some of the tumor-causing effects of ultraviolet rays

You may grab a cup (or two) of coffee every morning to help you wake up and face the day, but you may also be doing your skin a favor. Researchers in a new paper released January 20 say that coffee can protect against melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Melanoma is triggered by damage to skin cells’ DNA caused by UV rays from the sun or tanning beds; these mutations prompt the cells to grow abnormally and spread to other tissues in the body, where it can be fatal. But in a report published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Erikka Loftfield from the National Cancer Institute and her colleagues found that people who drank more than four cups of coffee a day on average had a 20% lower risk of developing melanoma over 10 years.

Loftfield’s group looked at food and cancer information from more than 447,000 people enrolled in a National Institutes of Health-AARP study who answered a 124-item food questionnaire and allowed the scientists access to their medical records. Even after the team adjusted for the potential effects of age, smoking, alcohol use and family history of cancer, the connection between high coffee consumption and lower risk of melanoma remained significant. The researchers even factored in the potential effect of casual sun exposure by looking at the average July ultraviolet readings where the participants lived.

The association only held for caffeinated coffee—not for decaf—and Loftfield’s group says there’s sound biological reason for that. Coffee contains numerous compounds, including polyphenols and caffeine, that keep cancer-fighting processes that are triggered by UV light under control. The roasting process of coffee beans also releases vitamin derivatives that protect against UV damage in mice. There’s also intriguing evidence that caffeine may act as a molecular sunscreen, absorbing UV rays and therefore protecting DNA from damage.

The group says that their results need to be repeated and confirmed, and that it’s too early yet to change your coffee habits to protect yourself from skin cancer. But the findings support the idea that there might be more you can do to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays than only slathering your body in sunscreen. It’s okay to enjoy a few cups of joe (as long as it’s in the shade).

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Yes, Caffeine Withdrawal Is a Real Thing

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Science says that caffeine comes with some real perks

Ever had a time when you really needed a cup of coffee? Some days, the urge can be so strong that everything seems off until you have a hot cup of Joe in your hands.

Well, you’re not alone. Even pro athletes like Serena Williams find it hard to fight the siren call of caffeine. The tennis star made her love for coffee known during a recent match at the Hopman Cup in Perth, Western Australia.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Surprising Sources of Caffeine

Despite being the World No. 1 in women’s singles, Williams wasn’t doing too hot in her match representing the U.S. She dropped the first set 0-6 to Italy’s Flavia Pennetta.

Williams asked an official if she could order an espresso during the break between sets, SI.com reports. The request seemed silly, even to the pro herself, but the quick pick-me-up turned out to be a major game-changer.

Williams went on to dominate the next two sets 6-3 and 6-0, winning the match for the U.S. The athlete blamed a combination of jet lag and missing out on a cup of coffee as the reason for her slow start.

According to HopmanCup.com, Williams told reporters, “I am a coffee drinker. I didn’t have mine this morning and I was just feeling it, so I just had to get some coffee into me.”

HEALTH.COM: The Best Foods to Eat for Breakfast

Props to Williams for pulling off a win, but it does make you wonder just how much people really need their coffee.

“Caffeine withdrawal isn’t necessarily about addiction—it’s really more about your body adapting to having caffeine in your system, then reacting when the substance isn’t there,” says Health‘s contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD. So if you’ve been a life-long coffee drinker, skipping your regular cup could bring on symptoms like headaches, fatigue, decreased alertness, and mood changes, she says.

“It’s more likely to happen if you [regularly] consume 500 milligrams of caffeine or more,” Sass says. “But it can happen with less if caffeine has been a daily habit.” Keep in mind 8 ounces of brewed coffee can have up to 200 milligrams of caffeine, Sass adds, while 1 ounce of Williams’ drink, the espresso, is on the lighter side with up to 75 milligrams.

HEALTH.COM: How to Burn Calories at Breakfast

That said, there are upsides to making coffee part of your routine, especially for athletes like Williams.

“Caffeine may help boost athletic performance by increasing muscle strength and physical endurance while decreasing feelings of fatigue,” says Marisa Moore, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Having caffeine during activity may give that second wind.”

Before big athletic events, it’s important to stick to what’s worked during your training routine, Moore says. If that means having a cup of coffee, then by all means do it.

HEALTH.COM: Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

Just enjoy caffeine in moderation—Sass says the recommendation for enhancing athletic performance is up to 6 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, which is about 400 milligrams per day for a 150-pound woman. And don’t use the beverage as a quick fix for fatigue when other issues like stress or diet are to blame.

“The real keys are listening to your body, and being honest with yourself about why you’re reaching for a cup of coffee (or two),” she says.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: The Science Behind Making the Perfect Cup of Coffee

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Energy Drinks Are Hurting Young Kids

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Cans of energy drinks are displayed in a store in San Diego on November 10, 2006. AFP/Getty Images

Poison centers are fielding calls about adverse health events from energy drinks for kids as young as six

Over 40% of calls to U.S. poison centers concerning energy drinks are for kids under age 6, some of whom reported experiencing symptoms like serious cardiac and neurological problems.

In a new study that examined the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System, looking at reports from Oct. 2010 to Sept. 2013, researchers found that of the 5,156 reported cases of energy drink exposure, 40% where unintentional exposures by kids. Symptoms related to the heart, like abnormal rhythms, were noted in 57% of the reported cases. Neurological issues were reported in 55% of the cases.

American Heart Association

Prior data has shown that young kids are passing up caffeinated beverages like soda, but are instead consuming more energy drinks and coffee. The FDA is currently investigating the risks of added caffeine in products consumed by young people.

The trouble with energy drinks is that they are not always regulated the same way as other beverages. For instance, some are considered dietary supplements, and don’t need FDA safety approval. The FDA considers caffeine to be safe, but some energy drinks can contain up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per can, as compared to 100-150 mg in a coffee, the study’s authors say.

Researchers are unsure what part of energy drinks can cause adverse health problems. It’s possible other ingredients besides caffeine can result in medical issues.

The American Beverage Association responded to the study, which is not yet published but was presented recently at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions:

“This abstract has not been published and therefore the authors’ full methodology and analysis is not available for review. In the past, various experts have raised concerns regarding misinterpretation and inherent limitations of data from National Poison Data System when it comes to Energy Drinks. Based on the most recent government data reported in the journal Pediatrics, children under 12 have virtually no caffeine consumption from energy drinks.

Even so, leading energy drink makers voluntarily place advisory statements on energy drink packaging stating that energy drinks are not recommended for children. They also have voluntarily pledged not to market these products to children or sell them in K-12 schools. These guidelines and more are noted in the ABA Guidance on the Responsible Labeling and Marketing of Energy Drinks.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Kind of Tea Lowers Blood Pressure Naturally

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The best brew for your heart

Recent research has come down squarely on the side of caffeinated morning beverages, suggesting that coffee can protect against cancer and type 2 diabetes. Tea has enjoyed a healthy reputation for years as a heart-protector, and a study published in the October issue of British Journal of Nutrition suggests it might even help lower blood pressure.

Researchers were intrigued by the inconclusive link in studies so far regarding blood pressure and tea intake, so they analyzed 25 randomized controlled trials—the gold standard of scientific research—to further explore on the association.

They found that in the short term, tea didn’t seem to make a difference for blood pressure. But long-term tea intake did have a significant impact. After 12 weeks of drinking tea, blood pressure was lower by 2.6 mmHg systolic and 2.2 mmHg diastolic. Green tea had the most significant results, while black tea performed the next best.

Those might not seem like big numbers, but small changes in blood pressure can have a significant impact on health, the study authors write. Reducing systolic blood pressure by 2.6 mmHg “would be expected to reduce stroke risk by 8%, coronary artery disease mortality by 5% and all-cause mortality by 4% at a population level,” they write.

Tea is thought to offer endothelial protection by helping blood vessels relax, allowing blood to flow more freely. It’s a high source of antioxidants that have been linked to better cardiovascular health.

The researchers weren’t able to pinpoint the optimal number of cups to drink to get the benefit, but other studies have shown protective effects at 3-4 daily cups. The researchers said they didn’t see a difference in caffeinated tea vs. decaf.

“These are profound effects and must be considered seriously in terms of the potential for dietary modification to modulate the risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease],” the authors write.

Read next: 6 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally

MONEY

You Could Get $10 from Red Bull

Red Bull is distributing cash to customers under the terms of a lawsuit settlement. But there's only $13 million to go around.

TIME Addiction

Addicted to Coffee? It’s Probably in Your Genes

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A new genetic explanation for your caffeine cravings

If you feel like you literally could not survive a day without coffee, you might have your genes to thank (or blame).

A new genome-wide study published in Molecular Psychiatry has identified genetic variants that may have a lot to do with your coffee obsession. Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital looked at more than 120,000 coffee drinkers and found six markers linked to responsiveness to caffeine—some of which had been previously identified as being related to smoking initiation and other types of potentially addictive behaviors, but had never before been linked to coffee consumption, says Marilyn Cornelis, research associate in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study.

MORE: You Asked: Is Coffee Bad For You?

Caffeine is a drug—a fact many of us forget until we madly crave a double shot. “There is controversy as to whether it can be addictive, and some of the genes that come up in the study suggest that’s quite possible,” Cornelis says. “The stimulating effects caffeine has would suggest that caffeine is a major driving in habitual coffee consumption at the genetic level.”

MORE: How Coffee Might Lower the Risk of Heart Failure

The results might help add nuance to coffee research, she says, which generally treats everyone as the same. It could also help pinpoint people who’d most benefit from coffee consumption, and who should stick to decaf. “We assume that any health effects from one cup of coffee will be the same for everyone, but this data suggests that’s not true,” Cornelis says.

Scientists have known for a long time that genetics play a role in coffee consumption and caffeine response, Cornelis says. “But it’s only until just recently that we’ve actually been able to pinpoint these exact genetics. That’s an important step forward in the research.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

You Asked: Is Coffee Bad For You?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

For years, your morning joe got a bad rap from health experts. But newer research suggests coffee may actually be good for you—if you follow the rules

“I gave up coffee” is a refrain of the health conscious. But should it be? The idea that coffee is a dangerous, addictive stimulant springs mostly from 1970s- and 1980s-era studies that tied the drink to higher rates of cancer and heart disease, explains Dr. Rob van Dam, a disease and nutrition expert at Harvard School of Public Health who has examined coffee and its health effects. According to van Dam, that old research didn’t do a great job of adjusting for a person’s cigarette habit or other unhealthy behaviors.

But newer, better-designed research paints a more benign picture of your favorite eye-opener. Van Dam and his colleagues analyzed health and diet data on roughly 130,000 adults spanning 24 years. They found no evidence that drinking coffee increases your risk of death from cancer, cardiovascular disease, or other causes. That was true even for people who knocked back 48-ounces of coffee a day. In fact, there was some indication that regular coffee drinkers might enjoy a slight drop in mortality risk, van Dam says.

The idea that your java could actually deserve a health halo would have shocked doctors a few decades ago. But van Dam’s study is only one in a wave of new research sure to please coffee fans. Coffee has been linked to lower rates of type-2 diabetes, a reduced risk for some cancers, and protection against Parkinson’s disease. Other research links coffee to improved memory, mood and energy levels.

The drink could even help shield you from a deadly form of skin cancer. How? The caffeine in coffee may interact with a type of “repair gene” that plays a role in the development of basal cell carcinoma, says Dr. Jiali Han, a disease researcher at Indiana University, Indianapolis, who coauthored the coffee-and-skin cancer study. Han says it’s also possible that coffee’s antioxidant compounds could account for the drink’s anti-cancer benefits—an explanation you’ll come across a lot when reading about coffee’s benefits.

But before you start swigging your java by the gallon, van Dam warns that there remain reasons to be careful. There’s evidence that pregnant women might want to limit morning caffeine fix because of an admittedly small correlation between coffee intake and miscarriage. (There is research showing that moderate coffee drinking is perfectly safe, making it a judgment call for expecting moms.) There are also reports hinting that people with cholesterol issues may have more problems if they drink some kinds of coffee. Compounds called cafestol, present in coffee beans, appear to raise LDL cholesterol—though paper filters eliminate most of those compound, making it more of a concern with French press and espresso-style brews. And of course, if you’re drinking so much that you’re unable to sleep or your heart races, that’s a bad thing too, van Dam adds.

But if you’re in good shape and enjoy coffee? “For most people,” van Dam says, “black coffee is a healthy, non-caloric beverage choice.” And it should go without saying that the benefits conferred to coffee do not extend to mocha-flavored “coffee drinks” or other sugar-loaded concoctions.

“Coffee is a highly complex beverage with hundreds of compounds,” van Dam says, which means it affects people differently. Van Dam doesn’t recommend people who don’t already drink the stuff start now, but if you love it, can tolerate it, and it isn’t messing with your sleep? Bottoms up.

TIME Drugs

FDA Warns Against Powdered Caffeine

The agency issued a statement Friday recommending that consumers avoid the potent powders

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning Friday about the dangers of pure powdered caffeine after the death of a teenager in Ohio in May.

A mere teaspoon of pure powdered caffeine, the FDA said, is equivalent to 25 cups of coffee and can be lethal. “Pure caffeine is a powerful stimulant and very small amounts may cause accidental overdose. Parents should be aware that these products may be attractive to young people,” the agent noted. The substance can be easily purchased online.

Taking too much of the drug can result in heartbeat disruptions, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea and disorientation. “These symptoms are likely to be much more severe than those resulting from drinking too much coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverages,” according to the statement.

The announcement comes almost two months after Logan Steiner, 18, of LeGrange, Ohio, died after overdosing on powdered caffeine on May 27.

TIME Caffeine

Prom King Died From Caffeine Powder Overdose

Logan Stiner, 18, died after ingesting a toxic amount of caffeine

Correction appended

The death of an Ohio high school senior just shy of his graduation has officially been attributed to a caffeine overdose.

On May 27, recently elected prom king Logan Stiner, 18, came home for lunch and ingested enough caffeine powder to cause an irregular heartbeat and seizures. His brother found him dead next to the white powder.

“I never thought it would hurt an 18-year-old child,” neighbor Lora Balka told WKYC.

Lorain County Coroner Steven Evans said Saturday that 1/16 a teaspoon of power has the caffeine equivalent of one can of Mountain Dew or a high-power energy drink. No one saw how much powder Stiner drank or knows where he got it from, but Evans said that it can be purchased online.

In October 2013, a British man died from a caffeine overdose after eating too many Hero Instant Energy Mints. Every mint contains the caffeine found in a can of Red Bull and the label advises taking no more than five in a 24-hour period. The coroner did not disclose how many pills John Jackson, 40, ingested.

“I am as certain as I can be that Mr. Jackson did not know he was exposing himself to danger,” said Coroner Robin Balmain, who vowed to write to the U.K.’s Department of Health regarding the potential dangers of high energy products.

In 2010, a 23-year-old man died in Nottingham, England after ingesting two spoonfuls of caffeine powder at a party with friends, which is the equivalent of 70 cans of Red Bull. The label warned to only take one-sixteenth of a teaspoon.

“Caffeine is so freely available on the internet,” coroner Nigel Chapman said, “but it’s so lethal if taken in the wrong dose and here we see the consequence.”

This article originally misstated how Lora Balka was related to the victim. She is a neighbor.

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