woman drinking coffee

Caffeine is the go-to ingredient for many people to get a natural boost of energy. For some, coffee is a normal way to start the day or get through an afternoon slump.

If caffeine is a daily habit for you, you’re not alone. An estimated 80% of adults consume caffeine every day, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Sometimes people can go overboard when it comes to how much caffeine they consume. Even though caffeine is natural, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely safe. Here’s what you need to know to consume caffeine safely.

What Is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans (chocolate), and guarana seeds (used in supplements and medicine).

Most people are familiar with caffeine from coffee. But it’s added to many manufactured products and foods. These include:

  • Soft drinks.
  • Energy drinks.
  • Performance water.
  • Foods flavored with coffee or chocolate, such as yogurt, ice cream, cookies, and cakes.
  • Snack foods, such as energy bars.
  • Some over-the-counter medicines, including decongestants and pain killers, especially for headaches or menstrual cramps.
  • Energy and weight-loss supplements and powders.

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What Does Caffeine Do?

As a stimulant, caffeine can increase your level of alertness. You may notice your focus and concentration improve after consuming caffeine. It usually takes from 20 to 40 minutes for caffeine to reach peak levels in your blood and begin to work.

Is Caffeine Bad For Your Health?

Most people can consume caffeine as part of a healthful diet. The FDA considers caffeine a substance that’s generally recognized as safe.

To avoid dangerous side effects, the FDA and theDietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adults limit their intake of caffeine to no more than 400 mg per day. On average, an 8-ounce cup of coffee contains 95 mgs of caffeine.

Caffeine has some surprising benefits for heart health. A cup or more of caffeinated coffee daily can reduce your risk of heart failure. That’s according to data analyzed from three large, well-known heart disease trials published by the American Heart Association.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should increase your caffeine consumption. If you have heart disease, it’s important to talk to your doctor about how much caffeine you should consume.

The stimulating effects of caffeine can worsen an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. It can also increase blood pressure.

And if you’re watching your sugar intake, caffeine can undermine your efforts. Sweetened coffees and teas, including ready-to-drink varieties, make up 40% of added daily sugars, according to the Dietary Guidelines.

Women who are or could be pregnant should talk to their doctor about having caffeine. In general, it’s considered safe for pregnant women to consume 200 mg or less of caffeine daily about one to two 8-ounce cups of coffee.

There is no proven safe dose of caffeine for children. Children should never have caffeine, recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Even though caffeine is helpful, too much caffeine can be harmful to your health.

How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

Taken in excess, caffeine can cause a host of short- and long-term issues. Here’s what to watch out for.

Symptoms of too much caffeine

Signs and symptoms of too much caffeine include:

  • Insomnia — having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Feeling jittery, anxious, or jumpy.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Getting eye twitches.
  • Nausea and lack of appetite
  • Headache.
  • Tremors and dizziness.

Long-term problems of too much caffeine consumption can include:

  • Irritability and mood changes.
  • Increased stress hormone levels.
  • Needing higher doses of caffeine to feel alert.
  • Difficulty quitting other substances, such as nicotine.
  • Difficulty limiting alcohol use when combined with caffeine.

Caffeine overdose

Fatal caffeine overdoses — called caffeine toxicity — are rare, but possible. It’s also rare to overdose on caffeine from drinking coffee or tea, according to StatPearls. But it’s best to stay under the dietary guidelines of 400 mg of caffeine a day. Caffeine toxicity is most often caused by an intentional overdose of medicines containing caffeine or consuming too many energy drinks.

In severe cases, caffeine toxicity can cause kidney failure, cardiac arrest, and rhabdomyolysis. This is a potentially fatal condition where muscle fibers break down and leak into your blood.

Signs and symptoms of caffeine overdose include:

  • Vomiting.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Racing heart or irregular heart rhythm.
  • Disorientation and hallucinations (though these are less common)

Tips for Limiting Your Caffeine Consumption

If you have any signs or symptoms of too much caffeine, you don’t have to quit cold turkey. But reducing your intake to the recommended daily serving — or less — can help. These tips can help you curb your caffeine consumption:

  • Pay attention to how much caffeine you consume each day. Different types of coffee can vary widely in their caffeine amount — from 40 mg to 150 mg. Check out this caffeine chart from the Center for Science in the Public Interest for caffeine amounts in coffee drinks and more.
  • Use a standard 8 oz. cup for coffee and other caffeinated beverages. Oversized mugs can contain twice the recommended serving size.
  • Cut back slowly. Drastically reducing your normal caffeine intake can lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches. Instead, drink one less cup of coffee or soda each day.
  • Switch to decaffeinated versions of your favorite beverages. For teas, choose herbal teas or fruit infusions which generally don’t contain caffeine.
  • Shorten brewing times for teas. This cuts down on the amount of caffeine released.
  • Read food and beverage labels. Even when a label doesn’t say it contains caffeine, products that contain coffee, chocolate, or cocoa usually has caffeine.
  • Read labels for over-the-counter pain medicines. Consider switching to medicines that don’t contain caffeine.
  • Watch the clock. Caffeine has a half-life of 5 to 6 hours — the time it takes for your body to process half a dose. To prevent caffeine from disrupting your sleep, don’t consume it less than 6 hours before bed.

Caffeine: Reducing Risks Associated with Long Work Hours. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

Caffeine and Children. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Link.

Caffeine Toxicity. StatPearls. National Center for Biotcechnology Information. Link.

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