So today, I’m staring into the abyss. I don’t really want to for fear of what I might find, but I’m gonna do it anyway, because that’s what responsible people do right? They do the right thing, even when it’s uncomfortable, solely for the reason that it’s the right thing. *Deep Breath* Today, I’m going to look into caffeine. Truth be told, coffee is a guilty pleasure of mine, as it i for so many people. I don’t have a big “problem” with it in the sense that I limit myself to one a day, and I brew it myself. I’m not into the stuff they pass off as coffee at places like Starbucks (especially the excuses to drink sugar that they serve up!) but I do like the process in the morning. In short, I enjoy the stuff. However, I apparently drink enough of it that if I go a few days without it, I get headaches – that’s less the coffee and more the caffeine talking to me, and I realize that, hence my curiosity and the whole point of today’s blog! Let’s get into this!
What is Caffeine?
Let’s put the shocking statement out there first – caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world. Psychoactive substances are things like heroin, LSD, cocaine, and amphetamines. Does this mean that Coffee is akin to Cocaine? No. absolutely not, they just share the same family – think of caffeine as the more innocent cousin in a mob movie, It’s not shaking down businesses or “whacking” guys, but it is related to the guys who do that sort of thing – Capeesh?
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant of the methylxanthine class – which is a sciencey way of saying it increases activity in the central nervous system and the body in general. Which is one of the reasons so many people use it to help them wake up in the morning. Drinking that coffee, tea or energy drink is literally an easy way of getting your body going. Caffeine is classified by the US Food and Drug Administration as generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Toxic doses, over 10 grams per day for an adult, are much higher than the typical dose of around 400 milligrams per day. Consuming over 500 milligrams a day can result in negative effects.
Caffeine is naturally occurring in Coffee, Tea, chocolate and the cola nut extract used in cola-like beverages, when added to energy drinks or any other food, the FDA regulates a maximum of .02 percent as “safe”.
With that in mind, how much caffeine are you consuming? According to the US Department of Agriculture, 8oz of coffee contains around 95 mg of caffeine. That means if you’re having more than 5 small cups a day, you’re at risk of negative effects! For me, that means my 10 oz cup contains around 119mg of caffeine, so I’m probably pretty safe according to the US government. But let’s look at some other popular sources of caffeine:
|Food / Beverage||Caffeine Content|
|Coffee (8 oz)||95 milligrams|
|Black Tea (8 oz)||47 milligrams|
|Monster Energy Drink (1 can – 16 oz)||160 milligrams|
|Starbucks Pike Place Brewed Coffee (Venti)||410 milligrams|
|Starbucks Caffé Latte (Venti – flavored or plain)||150 milligrams|
|Hershey’s Milk Chocolate (1 bar)||9 milligrams|
As you can see, the amounts of caffeine vary pretty greatly, so if you’re worried about it, a quick google search on your specific food or beverage might be worth it to get the straight facts! It’s also pretty easy to see that there are some easy ways to overshoot a “safe” 400 mg consumption level. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to imagine an adult who might grab a 410 mg Starbucks coffee on their way in to work, and top it off with another cup or two through out the day, pushing them over the safe line and into a more dangerous territory. But just WHAT does “dangerous” look like for caffeine?
Negative Effects Of Caffeine
So how dark does caffeine go? If you’re consuming dangerous amounts, do you really have something to be concerned with? Well, yeah. you should probably keep a watch on how much you’re consuming since it’s not something that you’re body is traditionally used to processing in large quantities the likes of which are available to use today (prehistoric you had to eat a heck of a lot of caffeine laden fruits or leaves to get anywhere close to what we can consume today.
The biggest risk of too much caffeine in your diet are heart problems. Too much caffeine can cause arrhythmias and notable hypokalemia (low levels of potassium in your blood which can make muscles feel weak, cramp and twitch for starters) and ensuing ventricular fibrillation – which is very bad. Heavy caffeine intake can even trigger coronary and arrhythmic events in some individuals. Although coffee intake is not considered a long-term risk factor for heart disease. Basically, if you have a history of cardiac arrhythmia or at increased risk for cardiovascular events, you should be careful and monitor your caffeine intake.
But There’s A Bright Side!
It’s not all bad news though! Caffeine does have some benefits to it, and coffee specifically (in the right amounts) has the following health benefits associated with it:
- Coffee drinkers are less likely to die from some of the leading causes of death in women: coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease.
- Your body may process glucose (or sugar) better.
- You’re less likely to develop heart failure.
- You are less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
- Coffee drinkers are more likely to have liver enzyme levels within a healthy range than people who don’t drink coffee.
- Dark roast coffee decreases breakage in DNA strands, which occur naturally but can lead to cancer or tumors if not repaired by your cells.
- Coffee drinkers — decaf or regular — were 26 percent less likely to develop colorectal cancer.
- Caffeine in two cups (16 oz – 190mg of caffeine) of coffee may provide significant protection against developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- Drinking at least one cup of coffee a day is associated with lowered stroke risk.
In a word – mixed. It seems there are some dangers to caffeine, but nothing nearly as troublesome as it would initially seem. Yes, caffeine is a drug. Yes, too much is bad for you, but the positive side effects outlined above seem to be pretty positive when taken at face value. My feeling is – like most things health related, educate yourself and then talk to your doctor about it and see what they think is best for your particular case. For most people, a cup or two a day seems like it could be fairly beneficial, but avoid overdoing it, and if you have to go with a highly caffeinated beverage, be aware of your consumption level and try not to overdo it.
For me, this is pretty good news. I can still indulge in my developing morning habit with a pretty clear conscience that I’m not negatively impacting my health! But what about those of you who talk with their doctor and decide it’s best to cut this drug out of your life?
Slaying The Dragon
As mentioned, I’ve experienced the headaches associated with foregoing caffeine, I even quit caffeine a few years back, but returned to it since I enjoy coffee in the mornings. Here’s how I managed to quit without having to gut it out and endure the headaches associated with going “cold turkey”
• Start with cutting your intake of caffeine, try a week of cutting your intake in half. For example, if you drink 4 cups of coffee a day, drop it to 2 a day for a week, then the following week, cut it to 1 a day for a week. Once you’re down to a cup a day, move on to the next step.
• Replace your morning coffee (or other caffeinated beverage) to something with a lower caffeine level – try black tea instead, 1 cup a day. After a week or two, move on to the next step
• Cut your intake to a cup of black tea every other day for a week. Once you’ve gotten to this step, you should be OK to simply stop drinking any caffeine, or just enjoying it when you feel like it instead of feeling like you “need” it.
If you still have issues, you can always try decreasing your caffeine supplement to something lower in caffeine like green tea. I’d discourage switching to something like chocolate that has a much lower caffeine content because of the replaced sugar content, only 17 grams, but that’s a little over 4 teaspoons, and as we’ve discussed in our scathing report on sugar, that’s just something you don’t want in your life!
I hope this helps shed some light on this topic, I know it did for me!
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Rudolph T, Knudsen K. A case of fatal caffeine poisoning. Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 2010 Apr;54(4):521-3.
Kapur R, Smith MD. Treatment of cardiovascular collapse from caffeine overdose with lidocaine, phenylephrine, and hemodialysis. Am J Emerg Med. 2009 Feb;27(2):253.e3-6.
Lopez-Garcia E, van Dam RM, Li TY, et al. The relationship of coffee consumption with mortality. Ann Intern Med 2008; 148:904.