HOW MUCH CAFFEINE IS TOO MUCH?
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We all love our caffeine fix, whether it is to kick start our day with a boost of energy, to survive a long dreary day at work, or to unwind and relax.
No matter where you are in the world, the sight and smell of a coffeehouse can’t be far. Millions of people drink caffeine in various forms and coffee is one of the most consumed beverages across the globe. While it is popular worldwide, surveys suggest that the Scandinavian and Nordic nations are among the top coffee drinkers, with Finland occupying the top spot. As per the study, Finns consume 26.45 lbs (12 kg) of coffee per capita, with the average person drinking nearly 4 cups of coffee daily. In fact, the culture of coffee drinking is so well ingrained in Finland that workers are entitled to two 10-minute legally mandated coffee breaks.
So why do we rely on caffeine so much? And is there such a thing as too much caffeine? Let’s find out
When we think of caffeine, we tend to think of coffee alone. However, many foods and drinks contain caffeine. They are either found naturally, labeled as caffeine-containing, or in hidden forms (which could be concerning to some).
Caffeine is found in:
- Cocoa beans
- Tea leaves
- Kola nuts
- Green tea
- Flavored tea
- Energy drinks
- Carbonated beverages
- Caffeinated water
- Chewing gums
- Energy bars, nutritional and weight loss supplements
- Coffee and chocolate-flavored desserts like ice cream, tiramisu, brownies, and puddings.
Hidden caffeine is found in
- Herbal and natural drugs
- Prescription and non-prescription drugs including hangover relieving medications.
Caffeine is a psychoactive substance that has the potential to alter how we feel and think. It gets quickly absorbed from our gut into our bloodstream, showing its peak effects within 30 to 60 minutes after consumption. Once it gets absorbed it reaches all parts of our body including our brain.
The ability of caffeine to stimulate our nervous system is achieved by blocking adenosine receptors in our brain. Caffeine is structurally similar to adenosine, which plays a role in calming our brains. The caffeine molecules fit perfectly into the adenosine receptor, preventing adenosine from binding to it. When the function of adenosine is inhibited, our nerves fire faster causing alertness and wakefulness.
Coffee is extensively broken down in the liver and it does not accumulate in our body. The kidneys remove whatever caffeine remains in the body through urination. It takes about 5 to 7 hours for the body to remove half of the caffeine you have consumed. Complete removal may take up to 10 hours.
Several factors can alter the way the body processes caffeine. For instance, research indicates that smokers metabolize caffeine faster. The use of oral contraceptives can inhibit the breakdown of caffeine, causing prolonged effects. Studies also reveal that pregnancy causes slower metabolism of coffee.
Caffeine is safe when consumed in moderation. There are boundaries set by the FDA regarding daily caffeine intake for adults. While there are no FDA recommendations for children, the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine use in children.
- The FDA recommended daily caffeine intake is up to 400 mg for most healthy adults. This is roughly about 4 cups of coffee, 2 energy drinks, or 10 cans of cola.
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends a daily caffeine intake of up to 200 mg (2 cups of coffee) for pregnant women.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no more than 100 mg of caffeine (1 cup coffee) per day for adolescents.
Consuming too much caffeine can lead to the following health problems. These symptoms could indicate that you’ve had too much of the stimulant.
- Fast heart rate
- Dizziness and shakiness
- Upset stomach
- Frequent urge to urinate
Not everyone is a caffeine addict. However, with regular use, you may feel you require more caffeine to function and feel normal. This can lead to chronic consumption of high doses of caffeine.
Chronic caffeine consumption in large amounts can lead to several system-wide effects such as:
- Muscle tremors
- Irregular heart rate
- Quickened breathing rate
- Weakness and fatigue
- Difficulty in falling asleep
- Poor appetite
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Ringing sensation in the ears
- Osteoporosis (in post-menopausal women)
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased risk for heart diseases, and elevated fat levels in the blood.
Cutting back on your caffeine intake can be challenging. But you can use some methods to curb your daily caffeine dose. Some steps that help you do so are:
- Start by gradually decreasing the amount you consume every day. An abrupt decrease can lead to symptoms of withdrawal such as irritation, headache, tiredness, difficulty concentrating, sleepiness, and nausea.
- Read food and drink labels to know where your caffeine is coming from and how much you are consuming.
- Try decaffeinated drinks.
- Replace fizzy drinks with water.
- Set a goal of how much you want to limit your caffeine intake, and drink only when you need it the most.
- Decaffeinated drinks, particularly decaf coffee, are a popular alternative for those wanting to cut down caffeine intake. The process of decaffeination removes 97% of caffeine. However, there is still 7 mg of caffeine in every cup.
Many of us cannot imagine starting our day without a cup of coffee. Caffeine helps us stay focused, awake, and energized. It increases productivity and helps us power through the hustle and bustle of daily life.
People often develop a tolerance to caffeine, slowly requiring a higher amount to achieve the same effects. Consuming too much caffeine comes with its own set of drawbacks like jitteriness, fatigue, difficulty in falling asleep, headache, etc.
It is best to limit yourself to four cups of coffee or two energy drinks each day. The right amount of caffeine will liven up your day and keep you away from its ill effects.
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