Are you drinking too much caffeine?

person addicted to coffee, too much caffeine and drinking cups of coffee

About 75% of Americans consume caffeine on a daily basis, with 25% partaking several times a day. With caffeine such a large part of American life, is it hurting our health?

WellTuned spoke with Ashley Kiser, a registered dietitian with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, to learn about the potential health impact of our caffeine consumption.

How does caffeine impact our health?

Ashley Kiser: The good news is that caffeine is not bad. Like many things, the impact on our health depends on how much we consume. In fact, consumed in moderation, for most people caffeine is linked to multiple positive health effects:

  • Increased energy
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
  • Reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
  • Lower risk of depression
  • Reduced risk of liver cancer

The negative impacts of caffeine consumption kick in when it’s consumed in large quantities. Those who drink large amounts of coffee, soft drinks or energy drinks throughout the day could be at risk to experience some negative effects.

How much caffeine is too much?

Ashley Kiser: For healthy adults, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends a daily limit of 400 mg of caffeine daily. That’s about 3-4 cups of regular coffee.

Here is the general caffeine content of several popular beverages:

  • Coffee: about 80-100 mg per 8-ounce cup
  • Soft drinks: 30-40 mg on average 12-ounce can (some varieties contain more)
  • Tea: 30-50 mg per 8-ounce cup of green or black tea
  • Energy drinks: 40-25 mg per 8-ounce drink (note: a few even contain as much as 300 mg)

Pay attention to the size of your caffeinated beverage and how many you consume. Some store-bought coffees are 20 oz and contain significantly more caffeine than what you might brew at home. The same goes for energy drinks: the servings size is typically 16 ounces, and some brands have a lot more caffeine than others.

Also remember that hot chocolate, chocolate, matcha, and even snack bars often contain caffeine. So don’t forget to add that to your daily total.

What happens if you drink too much caffeine?

Ashley Kiser: Everyone’s body processes caffeine a little differently. Some people avoid caffeine altogether because even a little caffeine can make them jittery and anxious. Other people can handle more before they start to experience some unpleasant side effects. Remember that caffeine is a stimulant. As a result, it can make you feel more alert and energetic. But if consumed in excess, side effects can include:

  • Restless or shakiness
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dehydration
  • Anxiety

The side effects may be worse if you’re also taking certain medications or supplements that interact with caffeine, like echinacea or a decongestant containing ephedrine.

Also watch your caffeine consumption over time. You might crave more to achieve the same effect when you started consuming it.

How to cut back

Ashley Kiser: If you think you’re drinking too much caffeine, you can try some strategies to help you cut back:

  • Track how much you’re drinking each day. Write down how many caffeinated beverages you consume—and the amount of caffeine in each one.
  • Don’t go cold turkey. Slowly cut back so you avoid the effects of caffeine withdrawal.
  • Make easy changes. Swap out one caffeinated drink for the decaf version—or go half-and-half.
  • Drink water or caffeine-free drinks with your meals.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks after a certain time each day. 2 p.m. might be a good limit to possibly help you sleep better at night.

Pay attention to your body. Chances are, if you’re consuming too much caffeine, your body will tell you. Then you can take steps to reduce your consumption.

More from Ashley Kiser on WellTuned

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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