Coffee. It fuels our mornings, invigorates our afternoons, and sometimes, gives us reason to brave the day.
With the ever-rising trends of latte art, slow pours, flat whites, and the need to stay constantly stimulated, it’s no surprise that Americans are hooked on the stuff. According to a Zagat survey of 1,500 coffee drinkers, people are willing to shell out (on average) $3.28 every day to sustain their habit. That’s around $100 per month!
Between energy drinks, sodas, and tea, coffee isn’t the only widely available source of caffeine available. It is, after all, the world’s most popular legal drug. If you’re doubling up, or relying on any of these to get you going, there’s a possibility you’re getting too much. But how much is too much? What are the adverse effects? Is there such a thing as overdosing on caffeine?
Here’s everything you need to know about caffeine, its effects, and whether or not you need to consider cutting back a bit.
To put it plainly, caffeine is a psychoactive drug that’s legal and unregulated throughout the world. It works by blocking the action of chemicals in the brain that cause drowsiness—specifically, adenosine. It also helps stimulate different parts of the nervous system, leading to that “awake” feeling most people are after when they reach for a cup in the morning.
Caffeine is found in various nuts, seeds, and the leaves of different plants—the most notable is the Coffea plant. In some energy drinks, caffeine is extracted and turned into a pure, white powder before being added along with other naturally derived stimulants like taurine and ginseng.
Most of us think of coffee as something to help us wake up and put a little spring in our step. However, caffeine is classified as a drug. Here are some of the reasons why:
However, unlike many other drugs, caffeine does have some health benefits, and overall, is considered relatively safe. The American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs has issued a statement that moderate coffee or tea drinking is not likely to negatively influence your health if you have other healthy habits.
So, that leaves us with one question.
We dive deeper into the different negative impacts caffeine can have on your health below. First, it’s worth taking a look at exactly how much is too much. Here are the primary things to understand.
The average intake for Americans is around 400 mg—or roughly four 8-ounce cups of coffee. Beyond that level, you may begin to experience negative side effects.
Drinking 500 to 600 mg a day (about five cups), especially in one sitting, could have a severe impact on your health.
Adolescents and teens should drink less coffee: About one cup per day is the recommended limit.
Moderate coffee consumption—about one or two cups a day—is generally considered safe for pregnant women. But, as always, follow your doctor’s advice.
If you start to experience problems as a result of drinking caffeine (e.g. jitters, lack of concentration, nausea), stop drinking it for the day. Your body will tell you a lot about your own limits.
In general, if you’re a coffee drinker, four cups a day is a good rule of thumb, and spreading out your intake will help prevent many of the side effects of excessive coffee use. But most experts do recommend avoiding coffee after lunch—particularly for those who experience sleep problems (2 p.m. is a good general cutoff time to stick to).
So what if you do go over the daily recommended limit? More than four cups a day could be putting you in the danger zone. A study by the Mayo Clinic found that young men who drank more than 28 cups of coffee per week had a 56 percent increased risk of death from all causes.
But for the average java sipper, there are some physical side effects—ranging in severity—to be aware of, too. Depending on your body and how much coffee you drink, you may experience none of these symptoms, some of them, or all of them. The important thing to understand is that moderate coffee use is safe and could even be good for you. Just don’t overdo it.
In general, caffeine’s effects last roughly four to six hours. In extreme cases, drinking too much within a short period of time can lead to an overdose. This can bring on serious health risks including:
High levels of caffeine can cause your heart rate and blood pressure to increase. When this happens, the cardiovascular system may experience a shutdown. Those with weaker hearts are at a higher risk for this.
It surprises many to learn that caffeine can be fatal. Death related to drinking coffee is extremely rare. But taking caffeine pills (or even downing energy drinks) with impunity can lead to death.
Obviously, you have to ingest a lot of caffeine to reach this point. As such, your body will usually begin to exhibit warning signs before an overdose occurs. If you experience any of the following issues after drinking a lot of coffee, you should stop immediately and let your body process the caffeine:
Everything we’ve gone over up to this point is primarily focused on the short-term consequences of drinking too much caffeine. It’s also worth noting that there are long-term impacts of excessive consumption as well. Due to caffeine’s four to six hour half-life—the time it takes to break down in the body—most symptoms like dizziness or anxiety fade within that timeframe. But some damage can linger including:
There’s plenty of evidence that moderate caffeine intake (about two to four cups per day), in particular coffee, does have health benefits—including a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart failure. However, it’s important you don’t go overboard. To be sure you’re not getting too much caffeine, stick to recommended limits, stop drinking it if you begin feeling jittery or experience negative side effects, and avoid sugary energy drinks entirely.
The good news is you don’t have to quit the stuff cold turkey. In fact, a little bit can do you good, but coffee consumption is something that you should monitor and moderate. Doing so will help ensure you stay healthy while getting that morning energy burst.
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