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Whether you’re maneuvering for a morning cup of joe, slurping your soda or steeping your sweet tea on the back porch, you’re likely one of millions across the globe that consumes caffeine every single day. Is coffee good for you? Is there a safe limit on daily caffeine intake? Do the health and nutritional effects of caffeine outweigh any potential risks? Let’s find out.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant found primarily in coffee beans, tea leaves and cacao beans (the mother of chocolate) and any foods or beverages made from these. As a stimulant, it is considered a drug, though its global popularity might make us think otherwise. Caffeine increases dopamine signaling in the brain, which leads to a sense of alertness. According to James Lane, PhD, of Duke University Medical Center, caffeine “exaggerates the stress response. Caffeine locks the receptor normally used by adenosine, a brain modulator that provides feedback to avoid overstimulation of nerve cells.” Is this a problem? He continues, “If adenosine is locked up, nothing keeps the nervous system from getting too excited at a cellular level.”
People often form habits from drinking caffeinated beverages, whether that caffeine is naturally occurring (such as coffee, tea or in a kola nut) or added. Many people (if not most) consuming caffeinated products enjoy their energizing effects. Caffeine is also found in some prescription and over-the-counter medications, including pain relievers, diet medications and cold/flu remedies.
How Much Caffeine Is in There??
|Food or Drink||Serving Size||Average amount of Caffeine (mg) [Range]|
|Coffee, filtered||8.4 fl. oz.||170 [120-270]|
|Espresso||2 fl. oz.||120 [70-200]|
|Decaf Coffee||8.4 fl. oz.||6 [2-10]|
|Tea (bag or leaves)||8.4 fl. oz.||64 [40-90]|
|Iced Tea||10 fl. oz.||40 [20-100]|
|Hot cocoa||10 fl. oz.||8 [4-14]|
|Soda (caffeinated, regular or sugar-free)||11.2 fl. oz.||40 [26-57]|
|Energy Drinks (Monster, Red Bull)||11.2 fl. oz.||80 [70-120]|
|5-Hour Energy||2 fl. oz.||215|
|Chocolate Bar||2 oz. (60 g)||40 [10-72]|
|Milk Chocolate||2 oz. (60 g)||12 [2-30]|
|Dark Chocolate||2 oz. (60 g)||120 [40-240]|
Serving sizes vary widely. What size coffee or soda do you normally drink? How large is the chocolate bar you’re eating? Some labels don’t reveal how much caffeine is in the product.
Is Caffeine Good for You?
Caffeine offers a variety of health benefits. It is probably best known to promote alertness or energy. Caffeine increases wakefulness, helps diminish fatigue and may improve concentration, memory and focus.
Some studies suggest that caffeine offers benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease or liver disease. Other research holds that coffee may help prevent type II diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and liver disease. Limited data shows that moderate intake of caffeine (2.5 mg/kg body weight per day) may benefit cognitive function and sports performance.
What Does Too Much Caffeine Do to You?
Too much caffeine can interfere with regular sleep patterns, which over time leads to sleep deprivation. This can affect your work performance and cause daytime drowsiness or lack of alertness.
On a more serious note, some studies have found that consuming too much caffeine may lead to high blood pressure, high blood sugar and lower bone density. In decades past, some research found a relationship between caffeine consumption and coronary heart disease. But more recent studies and meta-analyses do not show a link between coffee consumption and a higher cardiovascular risk.
Consuming too much coffee or caffeine can cause physical effects, including:
- Increased heart rate
- Frequent urination
- Headaches including migraine
- Muscle tremors or twitches
Is Caffeine Addictive?
According to Roland R. Griffiths, PhD, a veteran researcher and professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, “There’s no question. Caffeine does produce dependence, and caffeine withdrawal is a real syndrome.” But others in the field disagree, including George Koob, PhD, of The Scripps Research Institute.
At What Point Does Caffeine Become Dangerous?
Moderate doses of caffeine are safe for most people. However, even a little caffeine can make some people feel jittery. If you’re not a regular consumer of it, one cup of coffee or one large caffeinated soda may make you feel over-energized. Other factors influence a person’s sensitivity to caffeine. These include weight, age (children, teens and the elderly are likely more susceptible to the negative side of caffeine), medications/supplements you currently take (including theophylline, ephedrine and even echinacea) and genetics.
Up to 400 mg caffeine per day seems to be safe for most adults. That’s 2–3 cups of coffee, 10 cans of soft drink or about 3 energy drinks. Caffeine levels can vary widely by product or brand, so make sure you check labels to know how much caffeine you are consuming.
How Can I Reduce My Caffeine Intake?
Slowing your intake can present a bit of a challenge. That’s because quitting cold turkey can cause withdrawal symptoms like irritability, headache, fatigue and lack of focus. Though annoying, they usually dissipate after a few days.
Natural Sources of Caffeine
Caffeine is an alkaloid found in the fruit, nut or leaves of as many as 60 plants. Some of the most popular include:
- Coffee bean
- Black tea leaf
- Green tea leaf
- Cacao beans
- Kola nut
- Guarana berries and seeds
- Yerba mate